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Weekends, 'New Humans' (Friends)( Handout )
DOWNLOAD: Weekends, 'New Humans'
RATING: *** 1/2 out of 4
The first vinyl release from Baltimore's Friends Records came in December 2010. The record was "Strange Cultures," the sophomore album from Weekends, a guitar-and-drums duo consisting then of two recent college graduates, Adam Lempel and Brendan Sullivan.
In the time since, Friends Records has become one of the city's most prominent and consistent labels. Fittingly, Weekends' third album, "New Humans," mirrors its label's exciting, upward trajectory while marking a significant leap forward for the band.
Loose, loud and seemingly bursting at its seams, "New Humans" is a welcomed reminder of how much fun a two-man band can create. Fans of Kurt Vile's poignant guitar riffing and Japandroids' carpe diem attitude should have no problem finding things to like about Weekends.
But "New Humans" is about progress. Where as 2008's self-titled debut and "Strange Cultures" sounded like reverb-drenched sketches, "New Humans" is noticeably more confident and sure-handed. Instead of only turning the amplifiers to 11 and banging the drum kit to paste to make their point, Lempel and Sullivan - who share singing and playing duties on a song-by-song basis - also wrote more engaging guitar parts and pushed the vocals closer to the front of the mix, both marks of a band embracing its identity.
The key is the dynamic one-two punch of Sullivan and Lempel. Besides stronger singing, the duo has improved its guitar playing as well. The album's poppiest song, "Soaked," finds Sullivan alternating between heavy, exaggerated up-and-down strokes and frantic, invigorating strumming. On June Echo, the players switch positions, and Lempel builds the track around a memorable, high-pitched guitar riff.
Both players had no experience playing drums before Weekends, and the rhythm section remains the least remarkable aspect of the band. Here, drums are asked to keep the beat and little else. But the anthemic guitar parts more than make up for the shortcomings. Even with louder vocals, Weekends still aims to tell its stories through its guitars.
Lempel and Sullivan seem aware of this, and even poke fun at their difficult-to-decipher lyrics. On "Sinking Vibes," Sullivan sings, "What are the words to all of your songs / Tell me now so I can sing along." Deep down, he knows the words are simply a means to an end. -- Wesley Casea>