by Trevor Johnson
Fairweather is a D.C. area band that released two superlative albums and an EP on Equal Vision Records between 2001 and 2003. Perhaps the touchstone of their sound was an ability to keep listeners off-balance, uncertain and on-edge — but above all else, engaged. Across each release, Fairweather hardly repeated a step: the chugging, back and forth bounce of If They Move…Kill Them, the unruly post-rock cloudburst of Alaska and the peerless, quietLOUD finality of Lusitania. Each work stood as an independent and evolving entry, a mile-marker connoting forward progress while simultaneously entrenched in a sound that made Fairweather recognizable while leaving fans with little time to catch their breath, let alone lose interest. Then, like the swift gunfight that was Alaska, Fairweather was gone. Three years, three records, and a small, ferocious legacy.
Now, after a handful of reunion shows, the band has announced its first new album in over a decade and with it, our first listen: the opening “Carte Blance”. The track resides miles away from the floating-to-jostling rhythms of its predecessor. Rather, the song resembles more the heavier, more taut flip side of Equal Vision Records during its early 2000’s glory days: it’s a lot more Bane than Bear vs. Shark; more As Friends Rust than Armor for Sleep. The song is a fast, blastbeat punk song that somehow still feels like Fairweather, even if it operates at a speed and sound they’ve never quite breached before.
A lot of that has to do with Jay Littleton’s vocals, one of few constants in an ever-changing roster and aesthetic. Littleton has shown at every point that the quality of his oft-used upper register stays golden, whether pushed to its most intense limits or softly drifting along. Similarly, Fairweather have always been able to utilize a ring-out better than most of their peers (a testament to the band’s other concrete member, guitarist Ben Green, pulling double-duty here as producer). The taut, steely strums have always served as a coiling, a wind up for Fairweather, regardless of how many times the trick is employed across an album, hell, even a single song. Here, that play of tension and release literally splits the track in half, doubling as a breakdown, another hardcore tactic the band has always managed to bend to their own purposes. Meanwhile, Littleton shouts declarations of rebirth and reclamation; referencing lessons learned in “the bending but not the break,” and “Sinking ships” (hmmmmm). The song’s closing is an affirmation of power and self, claiming “We’ll haunt the house and scream those verses: it’s all we are tonight…all we are forever and all we are for better and for worse.” It’s perfect: you never consider both sides of a haunting, but the ghosts sure seem to have a hell of a time doing the menacing.
And then it’s over. Barely 80 seconds long but the door has so clearly been kicked off its hinges that it might be smoking. It would be as difficult to guess at the rest of the Fairweather’s forthcoming self-titled album as it was when they teased Lusitania with the record’s ambient, floating, equally-as-haunting introduction, “Derivative Opener” (translation: impossible). But you can practically feel the “awwwwwwhhh”s coming from Fairweather fans, a mixture of bubbling excitement and “more please!” disappointment as the song cuts out and there’s no track two following in step (which will intriguingly, and perhaps coyly, be titled “Reset Position.” Like I said, they’re having more fun than anyone). This is exactly the kind of bombastic strength you should see coming from a band that has spent the last decade on the shelf. The title implies starting over, and I can’t think of many better ways to get the blood flowing than a minute-long mood-core rave up. All in all, carte blanche sounds like a perfect place from which to start again, does it not?