Given Weaves' off-the-cuff sensibility, a quickly-recorded followup album shouldn't have been that much of a surprise. But where the band's barely-a-year-old self-titled debut was a lo-fi romp filled with arty punk and rock'n'roll, Wide Open is uncharacteristically polished and focused.
The record finds the Toronto quartet immersed in the world of stadium rock, cribbing plenty of influence from the likes of Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen. It's a fairly drastic change, but one they're able to effectively reconcile with their latent avant-garde tendencies.
The addition of rhythm guitar gives the songs a sturdier foundation, no longer sounding in danger of collapsing. And while it puts Weaves much more in step with the traditions of pop music, it's not at the expense of their ramshackle charm, which permeates the record. For every moment of pop convention, there's a burst of punchy rock right around the corner; the Springsteen-indebted "#53" — there's even glockenspiel — plays it safe, but fuzzed-out followup "Slicked" kicks off a string of in-your-face rock tracks, and there's no stopping them from there.
Long-time purveyors of sexed-up rock'n'roll cool, Weaves really shine when they slow things down and go outside their comfort zone. Instead of letting the slow-burning title track explode into a raucous climax, the band opts to draw out its spacious atmosphere and let things linger. It's uncharacteristically gentle, and only made more powerful by its followups, the simmering interlude "Motherfucker" and explosive "Scream," both collaborations with Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq. By the time "Scream" reaches its calamitous finish, it's all fists raised in rage and triumph. By embracing ebb and flow, Weaves allow their largest moments to reach the arena heights they seek.
The newfound space also gives more room for Burke's lyrics, poetic and urgent, as she unpacks being a black woman amidst today's socio-political climate. Lines like "I dare you to question the Man 'cause we've got something that he can't stand" from "Law and Panda" and "We're living in a time when misery is just common circumstance" from "Scream," delivered in her trademark twang, hit harder than their drunken-fist approach of old ever did.
It's not always fun and lighthearted — and that's the point. But whether on jaunts like "Slicked" or more staid numbers like the title track, there's an urgency, a vitality here that makes their songs even more impactful than before. On Wide Open, Weaves prove that they can flirt with convention without losing their edge. (Buzz)