Whitman’s Weekends

I came to a realization recently. I was adding to my “Favorite Songs, pre-2000” playlist (don’t pretend you don’t have something similar) when I noticed that most of the songs on that list were guitar rock. Even if it wasn’t a hard rocking Thin Lizzy or Rainbow song, it was something with a classic guitar-bass-drums instrumentation like the Old 97’s or T. Rex. This may not seem that odd for many of you, but my “Favorite Songs, post-2000” playlist is synth/programming-heavy. LCD Soundsystem, M83, Animal Collective, etc. Why is it okay for older songs to have guitars, but newer songs can’t? It’s a bias that I see in much of the blogosphere, and in other corners of the hip music press. Clearly, this is a gross generalization when artists like the Alabama Shakes still garner such positive attention, but it seems harder for classic sounds to break through.

These are the kinds of conflicted thoughts that Whitman’s new album Weekends has brought up within me. I’ve been conditioned not to like something like this by reading too much Pitchfork, and yet Whitman has had me embracing that yes, I love the Gaslight Anthem. They’ve got me pulling out my Replacements albums I haven’t listened to in forever. This is classic rock, not in the sense that it sounds like Alice Cooper (don’t worry, it doesn’t), but in the sense that it taps into the musical and lyrical elements that run back to rock’s early days. During “Barstools,” singer Ram Vela muses about covering “After the Gold Rush” by Neil Young and “Mother’s Little Helper” by the Rolling Stones, and it makes total sense. At the same time, “Cul-de-Sac” sounds like the kind of song that Flogging Molly would make if they were native Texans, instead of Irish Bostonians (especially after that outro kicks in just before the 3:30 mark). Whitman run the gamut of great guitar band influences over the course of their classic sound.

Whitman - 'Cul de Sac'

Vela also proves himself to be an adept lyricist, painting vivid pictures of some of the crazier weekends I could imagine. For example, “Cul-de-Sac” explains why Vela can’t “go back again” to the titular location. In “Heart Cheating Man,” he exclaims, “I’m burning up my letters of apology because I’m hopelessly devoted to debauchery.” As he articulates in lead single “NW Thurman,” “I dream of weekends for the ages” and it sounds like this is a dream based in reality.

This lifestyle, though, has consequences. In “Heart Cheating Man,” Vela sings, “She thinks I’m drinking with my friends / Instead I’m sleeping with the devil while my baby’s in bed,” and in “O’Sweet Nothing” Vela promises, “Today you’re mine / Until she comes back.” By the time he gets to “Dead Dog Days,” he wonders, “How could do this after all I’ve done for you?” Gee, man. I don’t know. You sound like a saint.

Weekends is an ode to drinking and debauchery, even as Vela and his bandmates acknowledge the innocent bystanders left in their wake (or “faces you won’t see tomorrow,” as Vela calls them) – friends, girlfriends and acquaintances that couldn’t handle the lifestyle. Whitman stop just short of true introspection, but continually flirt with it. And in the process, they’ve created a great guitar record that can soundtrack your summer BBQ and then help you power through your hangover, yearning for the chance to do it all over again.

The CD release party for Weekends is tomorrow night, April 13, at ND. Festivities start at nine and also feature performances from The Couch and Golden Bear.

– Carter