Weed: Hard to Kill (Nettwerk Records)
The first fast-forward setting on my DVD player -- just one click -- yields a hyperkinetic jumpiness that's too slow for skipping the boring parts, yet still accelerated enough that the movie is unwatchable. On this setting, running at I'd guess 1.1 time, much of the audio track drops out, save snippets of conversation and sound effects surfacing a dime on the dollar. The picture shakes a bit, and the action teeters along chaotically like Raimi in his younger days. The platform's digitization is clearly defined, either folly or flaw, depending on how you feel about the blasphemy of film transferred to a digital medium.
I imagine the world looks and sounds like this for everyone under 15, those kids born into cel phones, chat rooms and cable in the classroom, none knowing the sound of a rotary-dialed phone call. When they stroll the streets soon to be theirs, I imagine a tinnitic, modem-handshaking soundtrack bobbing and weaving in their brains, the stimulus exaggerated and experience truncated. Weed's debut album, Hard to Kill (Nettwerk) would be perfect in the mix.
Admittedly, painfully, many aspects of underground pop culture have passed me by. I'd like to attribute this to my choice to sacrifice leisure hours once spent at clubs to hours spent at a job with the surviving minutes parceled out to quieter times with my wife and few friends. But, I might simply be getting old: I don't know how to describe Weed in terms familiar to fans of similar music. Are they simply techno? Or ambient? Post-rave trip-hop? What exactly was Portishead? Commercialized ambient? Sold-out trip-hop? I can't really say. But in the way that I try to measure a man not necessarily by the quality of his shoes, but instead by the merit of his actions, I'm not all that concerned with Weed's placement in the matrix of modern post-dance music. If I'm unable to describe their work in discrete terms relative to their contemporaries, perhaps I'm doing a service to others in my situation: It's a good album, unlike most anything else I generally -- reflexively -- put on the stereo, and I'd urge anyone who understands this point to enjoy it in the same context.
Most of Weed's songs seem chaotic at first, but maybe deceptively so. In reality, after a second pass under the laser, they reveal themselves as carefully textured constructions. The first two tracks, "Further Away" and "Hard to Kill," start the album off with a mildly aggressive pace, while the third and fourth slow it down a touch, offering Cristina Handrabur's subtle, charming vocals a distinct showcase. But stick around for the fifth, "If Only You Could See," and you'll hear precisely the feeling of controlled hypertension I described above. The defibrillating backbeat, punctuated by cascading synth scales, would kill my grandmother if you strapped her down, A Clockwork Orange-style, and forced it into her atrophied aural canal.
I've always been drawn to contradiction and contrast in my audio-visual stimuli, and Cristina provides this in her vocal complement to the sometimes-frenetic beats. Her softly spoken, disjointed lyrics are interlaced with the dense, often complicated, atmospheric rhythms. I imagine Ballard, if he hadn't died so many years ago in those London suburbs, drinking his whiskey and water with this pumped through a pair of curiously tinny speakers. If Brazil didn't--really now--suck so badly, I'd argue that Weed would be playing in the unseen kids' bedrooms. In the presskit, Dan Handrabur, Christina's husband and Weed's technical and musical primary, identifies Can as a youthful influence, which makes perfect sense, though I can't quite say the two bands would go well together side-by-side.
This debut album is a complete work, one of the rare times I'd feel I would doing the musicians a disservice by shuffling the tracks, and the final track, "Extra-Planetary," completes the composition, drawing you in and lulling you into a more calm understanding. Ultimately, Hard to Kill is an exciting, sexy 46 minutes, de rigueur for enthusiasts, and the perfect deviation for those of us caught just behind the ambient wave, that group of us just turning 30 and reluctantly counting on the new Pavement album for our headphone hits.