Thursday, May 27, 2010


On a Weekend [EP]
For Hours and Ours

Like many of their youthful, idealistic hardcore forebears, you have to take For Hours and Ours' good with their bad. Let's go back to the 80's: Minor Threat were so dogmatic that their band concept required their own obsolescence (as soon as they could actually play, they had to break up). Black Flag released so much material they devalued themselves. The Descendents couldn't keep their singer from pursuing a real life. Being young and angry is exhausting.

This Austin quintet is more concerned with personal ethics than geopolitics, but the flame burns bright on On a Weekend. The targets of righteous fury here are the band's peers who choose to squander their downtime on shallow pursuits, and even more so other artists who claim to be dedicated to higher goals but don't invest time and energy worthy to their talents. The villain of On a Weekend is entropy. Our young heroes have individually fought off this demon through long years of practice on their respective instruments and have now banded together to use their powers for change. This is a positive band concept, and it's reflected in the music. For Hours and Ours are a pretty loud rock group but they're not afraid to be melodic, even cheerful. This I support. I also admire that they have some newer influences and not ones that are strictly genre-bound -- lyrics here borrow cadences from both American Football and Kanye West. They pressed their record on vinyl, bless their hearts, and that gives them both DIY credibility and the best-sounding format for their sound.

There is a bit of a downside to all of this sense of community and goodwill. The band name is one issue. It's a nice message, but it's also confusing! (Can you expect to be a top search result for "For Hours and Ours," "For Ours and Hours," "For Ours and Ours," and "For Hours and Hours?") That's a minor quibble. More troubling, the songs of On a Weekend aren't as strong as they could be because there's too much groupthink at work. It's not impossible to do the "we all write together" band and make it pay off, but it takes at least one person with a sharply critical ear and a sense of the whole. For Hours and Ours' straight-line writing approach is way too visible. There are a lot of confident parts that click, but there are a lot of sections that murkily follow out of their lead-ins without enough new ideas, half-changes as it were.

There isn't a song on the EP that doesn't have a great hook (save the needless Broken Social Scene-aping drone "We Took a Deep Breath and Swallowed the Stars") but the best moments are misused. The sweetest part of "Dirty Beige" is a syncopated guitar riff that should appear more often than it does but gets lost in a series of only mildly related changes. "A Chant Song" has the opposite problem, trampling one melody to death through repetitions by vocals and multiple instruments. "On a Weekend" begins with a glassy five-note guitar figure that's downright stirring but the rest of the song seems like a weakly concocted excuse for its use.

The use of vocals throughout the record is problematic. It sounds like all of the instrumental parts were written, rehearsed, executed, and then the vocals were dropped in at the last minute. They feel out of sync, they're often competing with the lead guitar where they shouldn't be, and Mike Kinsella needs a co-writing credit for at least one of the songs on the first side. The use of multiple singers is nice, and it's hard not to admire the unexpected way the ska influence on their music crops up not in the trumpet playing but rather the singing. But the vocal performances feel grafted on. They're not performed confidently or mixed up high enough to grab your attention, and for a band with as much to say as For Hours and Ours, that shouldn't be.

There are a lot of little details I like about this album, guitar counter-riffs and snappily syncopated drum parts, but most people listen to music top down. It's tough for good musicians, embedded in the minutiae, to recognize this at times. If you're going to try and write catchy stuff, you have to bring the best bits forward, and structure the rest of the songs around their delivery. For Hours and Ours have a melodic sense that's way out of proportion for their genre and age bracket. Making it click fully will involve some more time investment. I understand that it takes them a really long time to write songs, which is another weakness to the truly democratic approach. I hope their strong sense of community spirit will keep them together long enough to develop their style.

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