REVIEW: Strange Weather, The Vinyl District

May 4, 2016 | Joseph Neff

Record labels have long served a necessary if occasionally nefarious function, and predictions of their eventual obsolescence to the contrary, they remain very important in getting music into earholes and physical product into covetous mitts, and more to the point the appropriate audience; one of the advantages of the smaller independent sector is the ability to craft an identity that consumers will potentially return to again and again.

That’s the case with Saint Marie. If the indie business is still healthy the margin for error has certainly decreased in the digital era; too many missteps and an enterprise will probably find itself kaput. One smart maneuver is to embrace the longevity of substance over the ephemerality of style; Saint Marie has done so by signing up deardarkhead, an Atlantic City NJ-based combo active since 1988.

For the majority of their existence they featured the bass and voice of Michael Amper. Upon his exit in 2009 guitarist Kevin Harrington and drummer Robert Weiss chose not to cease operations until a full-on replacement was found, instead grabbing bassist Kevin McCauley and recording Strange Weather as an instrumental while continuing to seek a suitable vocalist.

Those wishing to absorb how deardarkhead sounded early are advised to investigate Oceanside: 1991-1993 compilation issued in 2011. They shouldn’t do so at the expense of the group’s latest however, as Strange Weather’s six tracks, at 25 minutes hovering in that gray zone betwixt EP and LP, offer fully-formed songs that tease the ears for a lengthier listen.

Oceanside was the second installment in Captured Tracks’ Shoegaze Archives, and while elements of the form can surely be detected here, the set also explores deardarkhead’s cited tendency toward post-punk with emphasis on catchiness, tightness, and drive throughout. The songs play to their instrumental strengths as incompleteness is pleasantly absent; nothing connects as being conceived with a singer in mind.

Combining crisp guitar and a tough Joy Div/ Cure-descended rhythmic foundation, the set’s opener “Falling Upward” avoids the mopey and gradually elevates to an energetic conclusion. “Sunshine Through the Rain” follows with an excursion into dream-popish territory as “Juxta Mare” provides a lively tempo to showcase Harrington’s axe.

“March Hares” begins side two to deliver the record its rousing standout, “Ice Age” is a deft blend of atmospherics and momentum and “Thinking Back” spreads out with rolling bass notes, sharp guitar tones and drum kit gallop to bestow Strange Weather a sturdy finale. Harnessing a sustained, fertile environment, the album’s main sticking point is its relative shortness.