Issue #28: Dear Bo Jackson by The Weeks

August 8, 2016

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Dear Bo Jackson by The Weeks
Released On April 30, 2013
Released By Serpents & Snakes Records

This Week’s Selection Chosen By Josh Buck

I feel like when I’m in charge of the introduction, I’m supposed to have all of these fun tidbits and anecdotes that contextualize the importance of the album. Well, fuck that. This is an album all about vibes and feels, and this is no place for #FunFacts… Okay, a few fun facts. The Weeks decided to name the album after Bo Jackson, as a way of expressing their desire to not be categorized. As Bo defied simple categorizations such as “baseball player” or “football player,” the band didn’t wanna be labeled as just a southern rock band or just a blues band.

The Weeks are a band that couldn’t have been further, ahem, off my radar a couple of years ago. I stumbled onto The Weeks via a Spotify playlist of the daytime acts for the 2014 Forecastle Fest in Kentucky. Two songs in and they immediately shot to the top of my must see list for the festival. I dragged my favorite-person-ever to their set hella early so we could get a rail spot and basked in what was essentially a house show on a festival stage from some dudes who have been partying and playing together since their early teens.

Dear Bo Jackson feels like a southern summer. It’s hot and a little sticky. It sounds like cheep beer in your friends basement (“White Ash“) and whiskey shots on the porch (“Brother In The Night“). It’s laid back and loose and entirely befitting a band that sells shotgun beer koozies on their website. It’s an album that I turn to as soon as the needle starts hovering over 90 degrees and I’m swimming in Richmond humidity.

For an album that really fucking kills as a party record, there are so many great twists and surprises here, songs that stretch themselves past what you could reasonably expect from them. “King Sized Death Bed” kicks off with a killer little riff, and then launches into verses that vividly depict a pins-and-needles relationship (the lyrical detail throughout this whole record is killer). In swings a pair of crazy melodic hooks, and by this point, you’re satisfied. “This is an album highlight. I’m feeling it.” And then bam: have this damn drunken singalong! It’s thrilling, and moments like this crop up throughout Dear Bo Jackson. “Chickahominy,” for example, is a molasses slide of a ballad until it explodes in a cacophony of raucous energy in its final 30 seconds.

And look, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that this album can also give me a massive case of the feels. “Ain’t My Stop” perfectly captures that surreal feeling when literally none of your shit seems to be coming together, with moments like “What’s more American than TV static in the dark” capturing a sort of momentary grey-ness that feels so raw. “Gobi Blues” probably has the most pull-the-car-over moment of the record for me though: “Well I don’t think the tragedy is worth it / cause to build a life and let it die means we were never perfect” is a line that makes me contemplate so many different things from so many different angles.

There are so many other bits that I could talk about here: the bass riffs throughout this record, the positively sublime organ playing, Cyle Barnes’ swoon-worthy vocals. But honestly, this is not the kind of album that gets summed up in 500 words on a computer monitor. Come meet out on the rocks at the river. We’ll crack open a couple of beers and I’ll play you the whole damn thing.

Josh Buck (@altq42)
Devout Pop Music Purist

Ambitious southern rockers with a knack for broadening an ageless sounds.

Packed in a flat Rubbermaid container under my bed lays a washed-out old pair of jeans. Across the back of the right calf the material is flayed open, ripped out by the teeth of a dog who broke its leash to run across the Auburn University police parking lot for the bit of flesh contained therein. The blow-out on the other knee came from one of the many skateboarding missteps I took as a ridiculously clumsy 19-year-old. Those jeans, unworn now for a decade except the occasional ego-fueled wonderings if this 33-year-old ass still fits, will come with me house to house until the one I’m carried out of because of all the memories woven into the denim. Listening through Dear Bo Jackson feels like fingering the worn material; in the same way those stitches call up people and things from years ago, this album sounds and feels like so many other albums and bands I call home. Immediately in the opening title track, the Rob Thomas, Eddie Vedder on anti-depressants voice of Cyle Barnes pulls me back to my latter teenage days listening to the only alternative station Birmingham could manage. I hear Rilo Kiley in the guitar wails, upbeat 1960s Motown in the bass lines, Weezer in the vocal pacing. Just in the opening bits of “Ain’t My Stop,” you have the drum line from “When the Levee Breaks” and a piano repetition that smacks of so many hymnals echoing off Christian walls. Listening to “Wo Is I” takes me to “Song About An Angel” by Sunny Day Real Estate, to “Sour Girl” by STP. If you look this up, you’ll see comparisons to Kings of Leon, who run the label who put out this album, but the scope runs much further. There is comfort in the familiar, in a reworking of what worked, and I don’t know that I have listened to an album so new and so close to home.

Laura Burroughs (@_thetwors)
Jestful Musical Erudite

You always hear stories about the first time musicians heard Little Richard or Chuck Berry (or Marty McFly), and how they felt like they needed to drop whatever they were doing and do that instead. It has to be among the strongest of positive reactions to music, imitation being the sincerest form of flattery and all. I had that very reaction while listening to Dear Bo Jackson. It was during “Brother In The Night,” when the horns triumphantly join the chorus after a verse that could have been recorded in Memphis with Booker T. & The M.G.’s or Muscle Shoals with The Swampers. I was putting all the pieces together in my head — rhythmic soul riffs, louder distorted guitar, organ, horns, combustible lead vocals with lyrics about being from the South — and I swear my next thought wasn’t just that I was enjoying this, but that I needed to play it. The Weeks combine elements of Americana, rock, pop punk, and soul (I desperately want to go back in time so I can hear Otis Redding cover “Gobi Blues“) in ways that feel truly inventive to me, and it’s not just instrumentation. Cyle Barnes’ voice has extra gears that allow the band to convincingly move between genres, often within the same song. “King Sized Death Bed” in particular is a stylistic balancing act I’m not sure any other band could pull off. Maybe I shouldn’t form my own version of The Weeks after all…

Davy Jones (@youhearthat)
Idealistic Seeker Of Neoteric Sounds

There’s something about the very Jersey heartland rock that fills Dear Bo Jackson from beginning to end that makes me think of much more overtly intellectual artists. From Bruce Springsteen to The Hold Steady to Titus Andronicus, the easiest comparisons I can stumble into when discussing The Weeks are all much more likely to engage in poetic flights of fancy or cerebral exegeses. You’ll find none of Springsteen’s poetic turns towards epic grandeur, or the Hold Steady’s convoluted narratives, or Titus Andronicus’ deep delves into narrow avenues of American history. The Weeks capture that intense rock n’ roll spirit that all of these bands also embody, but in tighter, more concentrated bursts, none of which venture very far afield from their seeming raison d’etre: to rock with passion and energy. There aren’t too many uptempo tunes here, but even the mid-paced jams seem to burn with an under-the-surface intensity that somehow makes them hit harder and at least seem faster. This subtle fire is the ingredient that drives album highlights like “Brother In The Night,” “Thief In My Mouth,” and “Ain’t My Stop.” Ultimately I’m not sure if these guys are cerebral poets overtaken by the spirit of rock or just the most passionate and talented bar band to break out of Asbury Park (or wherever… watch these guys turn out to be from Wyoming, or Paris) in a long, long time. Either way, this one is a fun listen.

Drew Necci (@buzzorhowl)
Insightful Scholar Of The Underground

Click below to watch the comically macabre music video for “King Sized Death Bed.”

Also, that face may be made a lot when listening to this record.

The Weeks aren’t one of those bands that I hear online, and run down to my local record store to buy their newest album. But chances are, if I would have seen them on The Meat Puppets tour (I love The Meat Puppets but have never seen them play, what is wrong with me!?) I would have still enjoyed their set. It makes sense that they signed to Serpents and Snakes, a label owned by Kings Of Leon. I could easily see them on the same summer festival circuit playing the side stage earlier in the day. With the help of slick Nashville producer and engineer, Paul Moak (Relient K, Jars Of Clay, Sarah Brightman), they have maximized the choruses and pushed the vocals way up front. While this pick is not tailor made for my taste, I know a lot of people who would probably really dig this record.

PJ Sykes (@pjsykes)
Gutsy Punk Renaissance Man

This album not only revealed itself as a work worthy of praise, but it also revealed something about my personal listening habits that I’m not terribly proud of. I listened to this album for the first time at the tail end of a long drive home from work. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t make much of an impact. That is not the time for trying new music by a band you’ve never even heard of. And I was ready to punt this album as “Not For Me” because my initial flyover hadn’t yielded something that I loved from the jump. But then I listened again. And the second time, a number of things jumped out at me. The great instrumentation (especially that guitar! yowza, that is some powerful guitar). The descriptive and poetic lyrics that are wonderful whether they’re relating a narrative or not. And then I listened again. And again. And it became clear that this was an album that required me to put in a little work before I was allowed to reap the rewards. It really made me feel like I don’t give new music enough of a chance. That’s something I want to change about myself and this album is going to be my jumping off point. I’m excited to continue to discover new things about this album. Right now, my favorite song is “Brother In The Night“, because I think it’s the most authentic outlaw song I’ve heard in a long time. But that could change. “Bad Enough” has a couplet that goes, “You tear and tailor to their tender tones / Heart of sin on your busted headphones” which jumped out at me the evening and might serve to dethrone the current champ. (Full disclosure: Until I looked it up to include in this blurb, I thought that first line was something about a tarantella and, as I write this, I can’t figure out if I prefer the actual lyrics or the mondegreen).

James Anderson (@unabashedjames)
Devoted Docent Of Musical Concepts

When I sat down to listen to Dear Bo Jackson, I have to admit I have doubts. I initially thought it would be just another indie rock album like scores of other albums that have come before. Instead, however, I grew to really enjoy the sound they cultivate over the course of these eleven songs. The guitar figure that starts out the first track and title song caught my attention immediately. And when the horns come in on the climax of the next track, “Brother In The Night,” they sealed the deal. It’s not that the album is recorded so immaculately that it sounds “perfect,” or, on the opposite end, that it sounds live; rather, it strikes a balance between studio sheen and a character that feels warm and dynamic and perfect in its own way. The drums that start “Ain’t My Stop” are a great example of this: they sound great, but you can hear just enough of the space around them that you’re not left with a sterile drum sound that’s been composited or compressed. My favorite moment on the record occurs in “Gobi Blues” when the backing track drops out save a bass drone, the mandolin comes in and it’s so unexpected and beautiful (and then we get the figure doubled in trumpet). Dear Bo Jackson may not be completely original or groundbreaking, but The Weeks accomplish something wonderful in making this record sound so luxurious and inviting that you can’t help but enjoy it.

David Munro (@david_c_munro)
Idiosyncratic Avant-Garde Wanderer

Interesting photo, but trust us that there is more personality behind their lyrics and notes than any picture can contain.

“You can’t beat two guitars, bass, drums,” quoth Lou Reed, and even more so when the guitars converse like old friends as they do on “Brother In The Night” and other tracks on Dear Bo Jackson by The Weeks. Lou was also not averse to horns and keys on occasion, and The Weeks modulate their sound with well-integrated examples of each. I started thinking that the singer was trying a bit too hard, as if he was coming off a jag of listening to a stack of emo-kid favorites. But then it occurred to me: these guys probably are emo kids, and they’re working on expanding their sound for themselves and their audience. Adding touches of soul and country was a smart way to broaden the emotional palette of their songs and the way they blend those strains so seamlessly into their tight, hard driving sound is impressive. The lyrics are full of odd details and humor, as you might expect from an album named after the “you don’t know Bo” guy, and the songs are packed with melodies and sing-out-loud choruses. And did I mention the guitars? Looks like the band is in the process of making their next album so do me a favor: if you ever run into lead singer Cyle Barnes on his way to the studio, tell him “Relax, it’s OK – you got this.”

Jeremy Shatan (@anearful)
Prescient & Appreciative Musical Omnivore

You know those records which you love, despite yourself? The one which came at the exact right time when you needed it, that sounds like nothing else you’re really into, which you are still obsessed with and continue to listen to years later? I love the first Franz Ferdinand record, which soundtracked many walks in my Albany neighborhood, despite the fact that I am not a rock music person at all. Had I heard The Weeks’ Dear Bo Jackson under different circumstances, I could see myself having a similar relationship with it. I don’t listen to many male-fronted rock bands whose music is tailor-made for big summer festivals, but there is something very charming and attractive about The Weeks’ version of this style. With their raucous country-rock sound and members named things like Cyle and Cain, it’s easy to write off The Weeks as a Millennial Kings of Leon (they were signed to that band’s record label, which no longer appears to exist), but many of their songs, “King Sized Death Bed” and “Bad Enough” in particular, can stand on their own as excellent, catchy rock. I don’t see Dear Bo Jackson going to the top of my list of recently discovered classics, but it’s well-produced and the songs are strong enough for it to get some spins as a whiskey-drinking companion on late August nights.

Melissa Koch (@bunnycaper)
Mediocre Runner, Aspiring Celebrity DJ

Listening to this record this week, a specific scene from Gilmore Girls repeatedly came to mind. Don’t laugh — for music fans, it might be the best show ever created. Anyway, the band-within-a-show Hep Alien (featuring Sebastian Bach!) is getting together and Zach, the frontman, describes some of the new stuff he’s been working on. “Mostly I’ve just been messing around. I wrote one song that was kind of White Stripes’ ‘Little Ghost‘ meets the Decemberists meets Gulag Orkestar meets, like, ‘Losing my Religion‘ meets Jethro Burns on that Steve Goodman album meets ‘Battle of Evermore‘ meets The Smiths meets… some other stuff.” It’s a great send-up of these ridiculous band descriptions that flooded the market in the mid-2000s (and have continued ever since) and I still roll my eyes whenever someone says “it’s like ___ meets ___” and think back to this. With that said though, I have to admit that the idea of “meeting” is all I could think of here. Motown meeting Creedence Clearwater Revival. Caleb Followill meeting Canned Heat. Delta Spirit meeting Stax Records. Eric Burdon meeting Futurebirds. Within the OYR canon, there was even moments of Cory Branan meeting Dev Hynes. These are all accurate and they dominated my thoughts through each listen, but it’s still a pretty cheap way of describing a striking record full of ear-popping arrangements and anthemic lyrics. What really elevates this record here is the subtle potency of its music. The inharmonious piano notes of “Ain’t My Stop.” The urgently tense rhythm of “Thief In My Mouth.” The soaring steel peddle of the grounded “Bad Enough.” The space and release of the drums on “Gobi Blues.” Each stirring and stunning moment speaks to the strength of the record far more than any cheeky band comparison ever could.

Doug Nunnally (@musicdoug)
Garrulous Aural Braggart

Next Week’s Selection:
Magazine by Jump, Little Children
Chosen By Davy Jones

Off Your Radar Newsletter

Editor: Doug Nunnally

Contributors: James Anderson, Josh Buck, Laura Burroughs, Shannon Cleary, Andrew Cothern, Kellen “J. Clyde” Ford, Matt Green, Davy Jones, Matt Klimas, Melissa Koch, David Munro, Drew Necci, James Peart, Jeremy Shatan, & PJ Sykes

Logo By Matt Klimas


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