Sunday, November 7th, 2004
Something is up in Wheat-land, and it doesn’t look good. They’ve just recently wrapped up touring for Per Second Per Second Per Second Every Second and not surprisingly all had been quiet for the last little while. Then last week a message from guitarist Ricky Brennan showed up on the mailing list inviting subscribers to come see his NEW band in Boston. New band? As in side-project, or…? Curious, I hit their website and found a message on the news page that recapped their ordeals over the past two years in getting and touring relentlessly to promote it. The tone was one of sagging shoulders and overall weariness, and reading between the lines it sounded very much like a farewell despite some vague mentions of future band activities, both recording and touring. Then one day later, the post was gone. Add to this a thread on their message board titled, “In Mourning” with the message, “Say it ain’t so…please”, with the poster later implying some inside knowledge about the state of Wheat that they weren’t at liberty to divulge. Now if you go to their website, both the news page and message board have been disabled completely.
Obviously, none of this augers well. Wheat have had something of a hard time of it throughout their career. Their first album Medeiros was a slow and hazy piece of slowcore-pop with a charmingly lo-fi wrapper, but it was sophomore effort Hope & Adams that really made them a band to watch. Producer Dave Fridmann threw just the right amount of gloss on their sound to smooth things out but not lose all their rough edges. The songcraft was tighter and it soundtracked my life through pretty much all of 2000 – seriously, I loved this record. I wasn’t the only one, either, as a moderate buzz began building up around the band and they eventually signed on with British indie label Nude only to have it go tits-up shortly thereafter. This left the band and third completed record Per Second pretty well screwed while they looked for a new home. Eventually, they announced they’d made the great leap forward and had signed with Columbia records farm team-subsidiary Aware Records. The indie faithful were concerned. Then came word that the band were re-recording large chunks of the finished Per Second record, which from the leaked MP3s sounded great as is. The next warning sign came when the original early 2003 release date became Spring, then Summer, then Fall, and then second week of October, then third week, then early November, then late Nove… It’s never a good sign when an album gets pushed back seven or eight months.
As a stopgap, they released the Too Much Time EP in March of 2003 and gave their fans a first taste of the new Wheat sound – and reaction was mixed, to say the least. As their official bio put it, “If Medeiros was like a grainy black and white photograph and Hope and Adams was a subtle but momentous shift to muted hues, Wheat’s glorious major label debut Per Second, Per Second, Per Second, Every Second is a giant leap into Technicolor” And it was true – the new songs were hugely produced numbers with an ultra-high gloss sheen. The songs were still strong but the sonics… Naturally the band maintained that this was the natural evolution of their sound, but not everyone was buying it. When the album finally got a release in late November, I had already resigned myself to the fact that they were now a different band than the one that had grabbed my heartstrings three years previous. I learned to enjoy Per Second for what it was, and it wasn’t a bad record by any means, but it just didn’t measure up to their older stuff.
I caught them in November of last year opening for Liz Phair and was pleased to see that they had improved as a live act in the three and a half years since I’d seen them last and that the new songs were still solid underneath the shellac of the recordings. Their touring schedule was fairly relentless through the latter half of 2003 and early 2004, but they never managed to make the big commercial breakthrough that they and Aware were obviously hoping for. Despite Aware’s best efforts, I think that at their heart Wheat were just too ‘indie’ in aesthetic and presentation to really catch on with the top 40 crowd. As overproduced as Per Second was, some of the b-sides and compilation tracks that surfaced over the same period were much more in line with their older sonic style. Perhaps looking to reestablish their original indie/alt fanbase, the band were booked on the second stage of the 2004 Lollapalooza tour… and we all know how that turned out. The abrupt cancellation left the band with a big gaping void in their Summer schedule which they scrambled to fill with dates around the US, but it had to have hurt. Which brings us to today. What’s going on? I don’t know. Does anyone? If so, please let me know. Was this a eulogy? I hope not.
If I’ve piqued anyone’s interest in Wheat, check out the following:
- Some mp3s from the Too Much Time EP and live radio session tracks. The “naked” versions are from the original record that the band submitted to Nude and IMO they sound so much better than the official versions. Apparently a full version of this is circulating the internet ether – I’ve not found a copy yet. Anyone got?
- Epitonic has some samples from their first two records. These were actually the exact mp3s that I listened to incessently in early 2000 before I managed to find a copy of Hope & Adams.
- The video for “Don’t I Hold You”. The closest the band has had to a hit single, it was originally on Hope & Adams but re-recorded and added as a bonus track on Per Second, much to my dismay. I thought the original was damn near perfect and the extra – I’ll say it again – GLOSS on the redo just smothered the spirit of the song. The video is a pretty lousy RealVideo stream, but it’s all I can find right now.
The Toronto Star asks Ben Rayner and Vit Wagner what it’s like being music critics for The Toronto Star.
It’s rock-n-roll week! Five shows, seven nights, two countries, starting with Luna tonight at Lee’s Palace. Whoo!
Yesterday was Vic’s birthday so we threw him a surprise dinner party at a fancy-pantsish restaurant down in the entertainment district of Toronto, AKA the club district, AKA the worst fucking place on the face of the Earth on a Saturday night. Swear to God, if I could have called in an airstrike last night I would have.
np – The Wrens / The Meadowlands