Best known as the multi-instrumentalist in the indie-rock band the Decemberists, Chris Funk is a Grammy-nominated artist who has also found much success as a music producer, composer and studio musician. Funk is also a founding member and co-writer in the acclaimed neo-gothic string band Black Prairie and has produced records for Red Fang, Langhorne Slim and Y La Bamba.
I grew up in northwest Indiana, which is basically an endless and extended suburb of Chicago. As it was the suburbs, there was no geographic musical identity for it to claim as its own (such as bluegrass and Appalachia, or hip-hop and the Bronx) and the internet was still a premonition of a code yet to be unlocked. If you were the youth that had an inclination to look for music beyond what was on the radio, you looked to the older kids, and in my case, for whatever reason, I was drawn to the girls that would cut their hair lopsided, black out their eyes and powder their faces into an introspective white quasi-Geisha look.
I soon started fibbing to my parents that I was going to the local bowling alley, but in reality I was pointing their silver Mercury Cougar straight into the underbelly of the Midwest, past the steel mills, ecological dead zones, various rotating “death capitols,” decay and the scent of illness, and into the North Side of Chicago.
It was here I eventually found a legendary parking lot on the corner of N. Clark Street and Belmont Avenue, a Dunkin’ Donuts commonly known among my friends as “Punkin’ Donuts,” where wannabees such as I would congregate on weekends before shows, smoke clove cigarettes, inhale whippets and discuss Peter Murphy vs. Love and Rockets vs. Tones on Tail. Down the alley from here was a store called — wait for it — “The Alley.” In this store we would buy more clove cigarettes, more whippets, and Bauhaus shirts and hope they looked authentically worn in.
Weekend’s new album, Jinx would have been quickly ushered into this crowd — from song one, my powdered-sugar hands certainly would have quickly fumbled through the shirt racks looking for their logo. We’ve been back here before in recent years: Bloody Valentines have reunited, Cures have been re-prescribed. However, Weekend manage to duck clichés by wearing their influences boldly and focusing on excellent songcraft, singing, and truly amazing soundscapes that Mr. Eno himself would applaud.
It’s interesting to think back on old recordings, albums like the Jesus and Mary Chain’s Psychocandy or the Cure’s The Head on the Door, both from 1985 and now sonically obsolete. The masterful mixing on Jinx makes me long to hear the old guard revisit these albums with reverb-laden “gazescapes” but still retain a massive-sounding bass, and drums that try to sound like a drum machine but still knock you down.
While those gigantic soundscapes often obscure the vocals (in the most appropriate fashion), as in the opener “Mirror,” the choruses are still memorable enough for a festival audience to anthemically chant along. (“I feel sick, sick, sick, sick, in my heart.”) Later, the vocals are pushed to the forefront on “Oubliette,” suggesting that this maybe was an attempt at a single — until the mind-crushing guitars enter midstride, obliterating the very thought.
“It’s Alright” seems to take a page out Ministry’s playbook of drum programming, while “Rosaries” follows up with a moment to lie back on your bed and consider the posters on your wall, the homework stacking up in the corner. “Just Drive” rounds out the record, staying true to flanged bass and guitars shrouded in vintage electronics and Roland Space Echo delay.
Thinking back to my youth, I was mystified by this music — how did they create these sonic palettes? How did all of the machines talk to each other to play in time? How did they decide to use such seemingly arbitrary sounds to create the lush, teeming beds where the vocals would lie? As I dig deeper into American traditional music as a writer and instrumentalist, Jinx couldn’t be further from my current pursuits. And yet, after hearing this record, I have this powerful urge to go down to the basement and dust off my Juno keyboard and Roland effects boxes. Now, where are those clove cigarettes?