by Max Freedman (@anticlimaxwell)
It’s been said before, and it’ll be said many times again: in 2017, virtually everything is political. Last year, Toronto band Weaves was content making hissing yet whimsical music; debut album Weaves roared like a candy-addicted punk band but stung with the playfulness of Deerhoof. Like the Hoof itself, though, Weaves has, pun intended, weaved politics into its music this year; Weaves follow-up Wide Open lays bare frontwoman Jasmyn Burke’s thoughts and vulnerabilities as a woman of color in a time of fascist revival. Her raised emotional stakes come with music that sounds like Weaves taking a comb to its hair; the structure left behind is cleaner and more organized, but the fundamental structure is unchanged.
“I think everyone is having a hard time processing what’s happening right now,” Burke said in a press release a few weeks before Wide Open’s release. It’s a statement that everyone will understand, yet it’s not terribly explicit about its subject matter. This is just Burke’s style: many of Wide Open’s narratives impactfully make their points without wagging tails or pointing fingers. “La La” recounts someone telling a younger Burke that she isn’t anything special; that the perpetrator was likely an older man, perhaps a teacher, very likely a white person, almost certainly a man, is only implied, never stated. “Gasoline” puts Burke in front of a literal and metaphorical mirror, trying to look her best solely to please herself; it’s likely that her intended audience is fellow women of color. Even when she’s more straightforward, Wide Open rings with revolutionary energy: the Tanya Taqaq-featuring “Scream,” which is both diamond-polished and a true left turn even for the already left-field Weaves, openly calls out harmful forces like gentrification, anti-abortionists, drone warfare, and general government fear-mongering.
It also features perhaps the album’s most telling lyric: “I look to my elders/I look to women and others who feel our common pain, our common strain.” Whether subtle or forthright, the Burke we hear on Wide Open successfully posits herself as a person to whom other women, especially those of color, can look for guidance. She can remark “I am a woman who feels the plight of these walls” on “#53” without directly issuing a call to action or rebuffing the status quo, but she can also stack songs such as “Slicked” with all sorts of commands. Go out there, be yourself, have fun, live this life without playing up to someone’s bullshit societal norms. “Slicked” is an even bolder take on the themes of “Gasoline,” though that’s to mention nothing of the thrillingly subversive lyric “I dare you to question the man/cause we’ve got something he can’t stand” from “Law and Panda.”
This sentiment is especially for-us-by-us, and it comes immediately after these two lines; “I’m a panda bear avoiding distinction/in the realm of philosophy/I’m a panda bear avoiding extinction/ in the realm of philosophy.” Whimsical Weaves is still around; it just takes some squinting to identify. Same with the music: the main riff of “Grass” is pretty much a folk ditty as Weaves tunes go, but that dirty guitar rudely squawking over it flashes the same fangs that kept Weaves on the hype train for years before it even released a full album. The iron-hot guitars that enliven “#53” especially feel like a robust bridge between the synesthetic world of Weaves and the wooden, hardened control of Wide Open. It might be hard to swallow a song like “La La,” which dabbles in riffs that might make more sense to hear on public radio than on a quirky rock album, without a gradual hand like “#53” to introduce listeners to this more refined and restrained Weaves. At the same time, a drenched, gutting, carefully trimmed ballad like “Wide Open” is so innately moving it doesn’t require any sort of reckoning with Weaves’ past to fall head over heels for.
Wide Open dims the manic lights of the rambunctious Weaves the world knew only a year ago, and this restraint proves necessary. A main theme of the album is the need for change; discussing its hardline, vital subject matter over arrangements as cartoonish as those on Weaves might have undermined Burke’s points. Many of these songs feel like someone is pressing down upon them, letting them burst occasionally but never fully explode, and this clasping parallels a life under the stress of societal oppression. Weaves’ newfound, self-imposed shackles demand patience; it’s no coincidence that thoroughly understanding the layers of global oppression takes immense amounts of effort and time.