It would be easy enough to relegate The Weepies to little more than a soundtrack band innocuously featured (as they have been) on TV shows like Gossip Girl and One Tree Hill. After all, Deb Talan’s voice is just pretty enough to be ignored and Steve Tannen’s melodies seem simple and familiar, all of which works well to pad any magical moment when a plot turns, a kiss is shared, and the sun sets over the ocean at just the right time.
But weeping for The Weepies and any supposed demotion to primetime teen/twentysomething television is not necessary, especially when their new project, Hideaway, is what it is – an album of melancholy and meaning that maintains a healthy equilibrium between the two without falling headlong over itself in doing so.
Hideaway’s title track is a chronicle of sorts of The Weepies’ past couple years of being stars in the spotlight. “We were empty,” says Talan (on their website). “We both felt dark after being in the bright lights for a year. We were looking to reconnect with what moved us about music in the first place. We needed to hide out and write.” Or, to put it another way: "Take the sky / for example / a canvas of a billion suns / but our local hero / shines them out by day / save for the winking of a Venus or Mars / even the stars / sometimes fade to gray / even the stars / hideaway.”
One thing I appreciate about The Weepies’ songwriting is what seems a genuine curiosity about (and struggle with) life – from “Little Bird”: “Sometimes it’s hard to tell the truth from the lies / nobody knows what’s in the hold of your minds”; from “Takes So Long”: “Sam and Libby / Lib and Sam / made a little one of them / a baby's born a man to die / I don't know why / I don't know why”; from “Lighting Candles”: "Trying not to hope too hard / for what I want / trying not to go too far / with all the dreaming / all the disappointment / so hard to handle / I’m still in the dark / lighting candles.”
Relationships (good/not so good) are another songwriting theme, with plenty of good songs about the challenge of living with and loving others – from “Wish I Could Forget”: "Standing in the sun / smoking quiet cigarettes / just before I let you down / funny how a heart shatters all at once /seems like it should make a sound.” “All Good Things,” a tune about a break-up, resists bitterness and offers blessing (despite a wee bit of fatalism – “all good things come to an end”) instead: "I was accustomed to showing you / all good things (all good things) / oh I wish you / all good things (all good things) / come to an end / all good things (all good things) / oh I wish you well.”
Personally, I didn’t care that much for “Old Coyote” or “Just Blue,” as they seem the weaker of the 14 songs both musically and lyrically; still, while not the strongest of songs melodically, they don’t take away from the overall tone in terms of feel – from “Just Blue”: “Look into the window / see what's caught my eye / duck in to avoid the rain / a baby wants to cry / so do I / so do I.” Again, perhaps a bit melodramatic on its own, but within the context of the song and the album, it fits, just as another rainy day in an overly rainy week sometimes feels even though its all too familiar (and we’ve all had days and weeks like those before).
“How You Survived the War” obviously has some kind of back story I’d be interested to know more about to better understand the song, so I hope that comes up in future interviews, as it’s a little vague without more background.
Some will complain that Hideaway is too “produced” to truly be pop “folk,” but you’ll get no complaints from me; the layers (strings, pads, Rhodes, piano) surrounding the clean acoustic and rhythm guitars are tasteful and subtle as the musicians backing the duo make good use of the stereo spectrum. While the artists are not afraid to use a little more reverb than most in the genre might (palpable more through headphones than speakers), it’s appropriate in keeping the vocals (especially the harmonies, which are unusual and exact) from being too painfully dry.
Some songs are better mixed than others (“Orbiting” is too squishy with reverb, even for me), but I like Talan’s voice layered over and over to create backgrounds with personality (though I’m not a fan of her voice molted – or doubled – on some of the leads as it makes her sound a little too non-human). Tannen’s voice is plain but accessible on the songs he sings lead on (I especially like him on “Can’t Go Back Now” and “Not Dead Yet”) but his singing is best suited to the tight backgrounds on songs like “Antarctica,” which is the catchiest tune on the disc.
The song’s last track, “All This Beauty,” is a cheery reminder of our human need to find and embrace beauty wherever and whenever we can: “All this beauty / you might have to close your eyes / and slowly open wide / all this beauty / we traveled all night / we drank the ocean dry / and watched the sun rise.” This positive parting thought is set to music that would fit well on any road trip mix, playfully (but purposefully) reminding us that in a world as broken as ours, sometimes the pursuit of beauty is, indeed, a pursuit.
That said, whether pursuing the beauty of creation or the messages within The Weepies' Hideaway, either way “it's a matter of getting deeper in / anyway you can.”