“Hey, did you know that one of the guys from The Venture Bros. has a band?” It’s strange for me to imagine Weep being pitched to someone in such a way, given that Alex first hipped me to The Venture Bros. with “Hey, did you know that the dude from Mors Syphilitica has a show on Adult Swim?”, but it’s a foregone conclusion by now that Doc Hammer’s foray into razor-sharp adventure/comedy cartooning has reached a broader audience than his work in the aforementioned ethereal band or, before that, the stone-classic goth rock of Requiem In White. That said, one’s thoughts on The Venture Bros. (in my case, now that The Wire‘s finished, it’s officially my favourite show on television) should be irrelevant to listening to Weep, Doc’s new(ish) band, which drapes rocking new wave structures in billowing waves of synth lushness, and has fit in quite nicely on Projekt’s roster. Alate, their third LP, is definitely their most confident and affecting, and probably also their best to date.
While not bringing a dramatic change in songwriting or style, Alate does herald two significant adjustments to Weep’s delivery. Firstly, the gauzy sheen of keyboards which has ornamented Weep’s songs so well has grown even grander and more complex, as on “Halved Heart”, which weds a brisk post-punk tempo to cinematic sweeps (perhaps bringing White Lies to mind). Some deftly-executed string arrangements also working their way in, which, in retrospect, were perhaps nibbling around the edges of sophomore disc Worn Thin‘s wintry moods. Secondly, Doc has allowed his voice to become substantially more unhinged and wild, regularly flying away from the controlled, nicotine-dusted baritone he’s carried through most of Weep’s material and into restless yowls (“It’s So Late”) and desperate shrieks (“The Stolen Moon”).
Both of these elements collide in the revisiting of “Can’t Be True”, a bleak break-up tune that’s one of the band’s earliest. The track’s reprisal on Alate initially sounds like a bleary, stripped-down 4am home recording, only to build and build over its seven minutes, timpanis and violins making shit nigh-Wagnerian while Doc screeches bitter recrimination into the wind: “So many things I’d rather do / With anyone / Just not with you”. When I first heard this song four years back I’d never have guessed it could be transformed so radically, but that’s a testament to the passion and confidence that’s on display on Alate.
The drama doesn’t start and stop at “Can’t Be True”, though, no siree Bob. Take Weep’s cover of “The Passion Of Lovers”, which surfaced online about a year back. Given their extant covers at that point – a smooth and nodding revamp of Jesus Jones’ “Right Here, Right Now” (“Yarr, now there was a band. Yeppers, back in the summer of ’91, we all thought they was gonna be the future of rock n’ roll.”) and a no-frills rock take on Rihanna’s “Shut Up And Drive” – I was initially surprised by the selection of a track by that most famous of goth bands and how close it hung to the original. Amidst Alate‘s stormy climes, though, that read scans perfectly: the choppy acoustic guitars brush back against the song’s famous chorus, accented by some barked backing vocals. Alate ain’t goth rock in the strictest sense, but there’s plenty here for those with MAC platinum cards who’ve been tracking Doc’s music over the long haul.
It’s not all wrist-stapled-to-forehead antics, though. As mentioned above, there are some punchy cuts like “They All Denied”, where classic post-punk rhythms get drizzled with warm synths, the nostalgic “It’s So Late”, and the almost humbly resigned “Lies Like Prayers”, with its simple bassline and plaintive “My wish just couldn’t be” refrain.
Upon revisiting Worn Thin and debut release Never Ever as prep work for this review, I was struck by how swiftly and cannily Weep had established their sound on those records. Full of familiar elements and welcome romantic indulgence, it’s still a very distinct and immediately identifiable template that Weep have developed, and the tweaks made to that template on this new release stand out all the more for that. Bit by bit, Weep have honed their game, until the pull-no-punches strength of their attack can’t be denied. Alate is a record that sets itself up as a grab for the big brass ring, and delivers.
Alate is currently out digitally, and will be released on CD on August 28th