A few weeks ago, I saw a three-piece power-pop band from Philly play the basement of a bowling alley to zero public attendance.
They definitely deserved better than this, but of course the measure of a great performance isn’t how many people are there to see it. I often feel the real litmus test for a great band is how enjoyable they can be when you’re locked in your own little groove while watching them go, in total equilibrium with yourself, your movement, the band, and their music. If you can break away from that for a moment and are legitimately shocked when you don’t see enough bodies in the crowd, you know you’ve been witnessing something special.
And that’s exactly how I felt while watching Weller blast through a set of their hook-laden, playful, yet introspective jams in a lonely corner of Mahall’s 20 Lanes in Lakewood, Ohio. The band was just making their way home after a lengthy tour which anticipated the proper release of their self-titled album (now officially out through all the usual streaming services), though they were selling copies on the road as well. And I’m really thankful they did, because until I listened to Weller, I didn’t realize how much I needed the kind of twee indie-pop they’re peddling in my life.
When I say “twee,” I don’t necessarily mean it in the same sense you might call a band like Belle & Sebastian or Camera Obscura twee. The music’s arrangement and instrumentation aren’t steeped in 60’s and 70’s blue-eyed soul worship, and thankfully the lyrics don’t come off like the detached, overly-erudite character studies which usually populate songs from those types of bands. I’m mainly drawing a comparison through their simplistic and concise production styles – tight, punchy drums, a warm, round bass, and twangy clean guitar, all sounding like they’re played together in a room.
It doesn’t take long into album opener “Answer Everything” to find out why that approach suits a band like Weller: guitar, bass, and drums all thump out memorable melodies in laid-back, syncopated rhythms you don’t even have to try to move along with. Very rarely will you find a deviation from this model, like the somber, unaccompanied fingerpicking on “Repeat” – but even then, these moments are only in service of what I consider to be the core of the Weller experience: guitarist/vocalist Harrison Nantz’s excellent songwriting. When an additional instrument makes its way into the arrangement, like the beautiful banjo and electric organ on “Standard,” you get the sense that it’s exactly what was needed in the song at exactly that moment.
A simple and clean approach to the production and arrangement also gives the appropriate space to focus on what is probably the most important of any part of “pop” music – the vocals. And here, Weller does not disappoint. Somewhere between the rhythmic playfulness of Evan Weiss and the calm and collected delivery of John K. Samson, Nantz spins tales of domestic boredom, anxiety, alienation, and the pains of growing older with an eye for clever language and quick turns of phrase. Despite the cozy presentation, these lyrics, like the ones in “Boroughs,” do often take some dark turns through all their somber reflection. Like Weiss and Samson, Nantz has a firm grasp on how to paint a self-portrait through descriptions of his attitudes towards others. The songs may be autobiographical, or maybe not – another good indicator of compelling writing.
Overall, I think this is a great start from a band that clearly knows what they’re doing and has already established a solid sonic foundation for themselves. If you’re feeling burned out on emotionally heavy, bombastic, over-produced and sonically dense music, Weller has got you covered with tight, catchy jams you can sing along to with your beer at the bowling alley. Next time they come to yours, I better see you there.
1. Answer Anything
2. Learning Curves
8. Think Tank
9. Every Other Day
10. Point of Personal Privilege