Written by: Dave Cantrell
A band brought to our attention by Northern Arms’ Keith Richard Peirce, here’s another brilliant bit of 2014 that escaped our attention, and, we’re betting, yours too. Besides being suitably wowed, we have to ask: What is going on in Philadelphia these days? Whatever it is, it’s working.
Y’know those albums that draw you in with a first track that’s so fresh and alluring and just so utterly captivating you’re hooked in no matter what follows? This is one of those. And y’know how some, if not many, of such lapel-grabbing albums then proceed to fall on their one-hit-wonder faces by following up that giddy opening gambit with such insipid dreck and drivel that you wonder just what sort of deal-with-the-devil deal they had to make to capture that one-time magic? Weird Hot is assuredly not one of those.
That introductory track, a cinematic hustle with warped Warholian overtones that merits every accoladed adjective anyone wants to throw at it – and there will be plenty – and certainly deserving of the Single Of The Week honors bestowed upon it by SEM, comes damn close to being outstripped a mere three skips down the tracklist, where a tough cookie named “Baby Lucky” resides. A ramped-up funk groove that boasts a bass bumping along at a clip both resounding and subtly monstrous enough to turn every ear in Tina Weymouth’s fan club (that would be one Justin Hallman), this thing just romps. With a tempo so tight it could crack a crescent wrench (and here we thank drummer Marc Sonstein) and just about drowning in sass – the vocal interjections of Jennifer Prescott and Carrie Stardust in the chorus (“you got somethin’ here for two dollars? / somethin’ lucky here for two dollars?”) snap with the attitude of a biker gang Ronettes – as well as uncorked guitar solos going off like fireworks, the song has fun eternal genius classic tattooed all over it. There’s even cowbell, injudiciously applied (though baffled a bit by duct tape), and if all this sound a bit Seventies to you, well, your radar’s groovin’ to the right wavelength.
Weird Hot is indeed a band unafraid of exploring standard rock ensemble tropes from the latter half of the original ‘Me’ decade (when, you have to admit, tropes were just generally more interesting anyway) and, to borrow my own vocation’s age-old maxim, turning around and decidedly making them their own. “The Wasp Woman,” whimsical, disturbed, conflating temptress romance with a horror movie take on The Metamorphosis, with its chunky prog pop structure and soaring guitar outbreak (courtesy Joe Boyle), could easily find a second home on a heyday Crack The Sky album (and I for one can’t tell you how refreshing it is to hear that). “Ghosts,” all tongue-in-cheek absurdity mixed with genuine longing, plumping for a sing-song sing-along playground chorus and another clean scorch of guitar, might easily remind of City Boy circa Young Men Gone West, while closer “Anna” swings gently forward like one of those achingly lovely tributes to womanly wiles that the ghost of Harry Nilsson may have to swoop in and claim as his own, guitarist and lead singer Shawn Kilroy singing the understated hell out of it. Edging a bit forward, “The Road To You” even sports a late 70’s post-punk bassline and isn’t too many miles away from “Golden Brown,” which admittedly takes us into the early 80’s but those decade divisions are just a chimera anyway, aren’t they?
Far from a simple exercise in time travel and era-swapping, the point of an album – and a band – like this is timelessness. Despite our purist fantasies, the fact is that the abundance we’re all enjoying on stage and vinyl these days – and the riches arrives in a teeming bundle every week – are built however craftily upon the triumphs of the past. As even a cursory listen confirms, echoes are pinging all over the musical universe and it’d be only a band of deluded fools that thinks they can escape them. Weird Hot are not that, but instead possess sufficient wisdom to embrace this basic truth with both joy and passion, alchemizing the what’s-been into the what’s-possible-now. This is a band that exist in their own moment, exuding confidence and a decided aplomb, investing their performance with equal parts zest and nuance – from all reports and videos they’re a caution live and in my dreams I have them paired with the Numbers Band at a quaint dive midway between Kent and Philly – and coming up trumps no matter the mood or tempo. Right on the bumptious heels of “Baby Lucky” comes the tender drift of “Lunatics By the Sea,” giving off the suave melancholy glow of true infatuation as it essays those moments when a love-borne eternality can truly be believed in, when nostalgia floats over the present tense and dusts everything with an ecstatic sadness. That odd, suspended sense of feeling momentarily immortal is rather perfectly captured but the greater sleight-of-hand might derive from the fact that the transition between those two tracks is seamless, we segue as if escorted by a well-trusted, white-gloved hand, the path taking some eccentric turns but the logic in them always inherently obvious.
This album, above all else, is deeply satisfying in terms of just plain unmitigated entertainment. Neither pandering nor insulting and in fact fiercely the opposite (I’d call it wildly intelligent), Weird Hot, between its astute musicianship and the sparking, inspired, totally committed honesty with which its presented, simply blows you away. A gem. Philadelphia delivers again.