The Weird Weeds Hold Me

[Edition Manifold; 2005]

Styles: folk-pop informed by free improv and modern classical
Others: Deerhoof, The Microphones, Webern and Espers in a blender

Hailing from the musical hotbed of Austin, TX, the Weird Weeds fly in the face of any notion of musical convention with their debut release, Hold Me, exploring vast, uncharted territory where banshee wails and the sounds of creaking doors sit comfortably next to bona fide pop hooks and beautiful chord changes. Picture a group blending the chaos of a Tonic showcase with the understated beauty of the freak folk that's all the rage these days (see: Vetiver, Espers, Devendra Banhart, etc.) or a Storm & Stress less hell-bent on deconstruction, and you'll be on the right track.

Hold Me opens on "Paratrooper Seed," which begins with a lovely, winding melody performed on a flute (or at least a flute preset on some god-forsaken Casio), allowing the Weird Weeds (a four-piece on the recording, now a trio) to stake out their position as masters of the unpredictable: the melody winds up and down, creating a miasma of tension and anxiety, and setting the stage quite nicely for the 31 minutes ahead. The flute melody finally ends and the song progresses into a slow, wading pool of a groove reminiscent of early Low (except not as sleep-inducing) and the album kicks off to a roaring start.

"Hold Me/Popcorn Trees" features a beautiful guitar melody set against weird, throbbing chords and a rumbling bass drum that evokes the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust. Singer/drummer Nick Hennies' intones in his clear but somewhat quavering tenor: "kernels came into spring believing winter's past," while guitarist Kurt Newman's sinewy guitar lines add considerable flavor to the affair.

"Holy Train Wrecks" reads like a special ed. folk sing along at a haunted campground (I mean this in a good way). Singer/guitarist Sandy Ewen yelps halfway through the ordeal as the ghost haunting the campground appears. But, from the sound of it, the ghost haunting the campground isn't hate-filled and vicious, but lovable with a slight sinister side just waiting to be unleashed (kind of like Deerhoof's Milk Man character). "Soda Jerk" continues the "lovable-but-sinister" theme with Ewen's sputtering slide guitar, the return of the flute, and Hennies' watery, cascading cymbals, which brings to mind what traditional Javanese Gamelan might sound like intermingled with some Downtown New York ensemble.

Hold Me's only real misstep is the half-formed freak-out of "Castor Plants," which, with its two-chord jamboree at the end, simply sounds contrived, especially when compared to the solemn tone of the other tracks on the record. Which isn't to say that's it's necessarily a bad song, but for me, at least, it didn't really contribute much to the overall experience of the record.

One extremely minor faux pas aside (the song barely exceeds the 2-minute mark), Hold Me is a powerful statement from a band, simply put, on the verge of taking over the world. If kids are going crazy over Devendra's humdrum paint-by-numbers songs, wait 'til they hear The Weird Weeds!

1. Paratrooper Seed
2. Fifty Dollars
3. Castor Plants
4. Hold Me/Popcorn Trees
5. Holy Train Wrecks
6. Bachelor Party
7. Bright-Work
8. Soda Jerk
9. A Duck
10. Ribs & Wrinkles

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