by Dylan Pennell (@dylan_pennell)
Surprisingly, the past thirty years have been relatively fecund when it comes to new musical styles and certainly one of the most prominent and rewarding of the newer genres would have to be shoegaze. After churning out some stone cold classics in the early nineties, it stuck around like a post-show bout of tinnitus, and for most who have ever been to see MBV, that tinnitus is all too real. Slowly over the course of the later nineties and early aughts, with the burgeoning of internet blog culture, shoegaze found itself a second lease on life with bands like Deerhunter, Vivian Girls, Deafheaven, and DIIV, to name a few. As the second decade of this century reared its head it became clear that artists had finally figured out how to take the lessons learned from early shoegaze and morph them into spacey-VHS-indebted alternative rock, scrappy simulacrums of sixties doo-wop and sky-torn black metal. Proving to be a much more resilient genre than Kevin Shields himself may have even given credit to when he was busy bankrupting (or not?) Creation Records.
Now, with the death knell of 2017 quickly approaching, and the fall temperatures not quite dropping as steadily as most of us were used to in the nineties, it’s nearly time to look back at the year in shoegaze, but not before taking stock of the new Weed Hounds record first.
Weed Hounds, while not always the most visible band, have been around since the beach-obsessed days of the late naughts and early teens, hoofing it through the sandy beaches of Brooklyn, NY to bring us their first single “Beach Bummed,” a title that may have felt too close to Bethany Cosentino’s own coastal lethargy. But for anyone who actually listened to that single they would have found something grittier, gauzier, and less overly concerned with adorning the 1%’s weekend forays to Anthropologie. “Beach Bummed” fit the band comfortably next to the likes of early Dum Dum Girls and Vivian Girls, two bands that lovingly draped themselves in brooding atmosphere enough to forsake the same droves of popular afforded to Best Coast - full disclosure: I like Best Coast.
After what felt like a stunted start, Weed Hounds, after 2010’s “Beach Bummed,” finally released their self-titled debut in 2014. While that album fulfilled the sonic promises made by their first single, it never captured the zeitgeist the way their peers had. So now, after another extended period, Weed Hounds debut back on the scene with possibly their most assured and forward-thinking offering yet: Double Life EP.
The first song arrives with a forceful percussion pushing the rough-hewn guitars into the living room of your memories, while the cleaner low end guitar chords helping to rake the violent smears of distorted guitars recall a bygone era. “Oxalis” instantly taps into memory, not only through the infectious melody and retro-leaning production, but also through the lyrics. Lead singer and guitarist Laura Catalano, when audible seems concerned with treading down the ivy-covered streets of memory so often painfully invoked in the genre. The lyrics in “Oxalis” read almost like a child looking up to an older sibling, one who was “cool” way before you knew what “cool” meant. Catalano repeats in the chorus “When I was learning how” before intoning “...to be you,” demonstrating a youthful longing to fit into a world that she has no access to. Come the song’s conclusion she bashfully admits “I’m still learning how to be you,” giving credence to the lifelong pursuit of each’s obscure object of desire.
Referencing this unfulfilled quest for something - maturity, “cool,” responsibility, adulthood, love - has acted not only as a fixture of shoegaze music since its inception, but also as an access point for the listener. These songs seem geared, even on a musical level, for wistfulness and evoking memories of youth and free-spirited enterprise that only a backyard, a radio, and the post-school hours can bring. The Pumpkins by way of Cocteau Twins nocturnal grunge of “Undertow” and the punkier rave-up of the title track “Double Life” seem rife with the opportunity to simply be pinned as “throwbacks,” but the tunefulness and the gusto with which these songs are played more than rationalize their existence in a world already teeming with bands who are truly only “throwbacks.”
Another unique aspect of the record is the way in which it feels like the songs become more emotionally revealing as the record moves forward, a detail indebted to not just the haze of guitars growing more lucid, but also the vocals becoming more prominent. By the time final track and lone ballad “Wait” rolls around Catalano is near-bare - in shoegaze terms - and deadpanning a stark admission that “You know I’ll always wait for you, no matter what you’re going through.” What happens here is truly ingenious as, on its own, the sentiment almost feels rote, but bookending a collection of songs that begins with “Oxalis” takes on the poignant air of maturity. Where the protagonist of the first song is heard eyeing others in admiration, now it seems as if they has finally learned to grow up and be patient with those around them. Now, it seems, that obscure object of desire is well within grasp and Catalano’s protagonist need only have the patience to wait for “you,” a definitive sign of maturity on this character’s part. And simply put, isn’t that what it’s all about, Alfie?
Weed Hounds leave us on this note, matured, assured, and hopefully without making us wait so long for another slice of their unique, beautifully-rendered brand of rock.