Album Review: The Weepies, ‘Sirens’
There aren’t many bands more perfectly named than the Weepies. Husband-and-wife singer-songwriter duo Deb Talan and Steve Tannen are expert purveyors of tear-stained folk-pop, but as their name suggests, their songs tend to sound like hopeful sniffles rather than all-out sobs — and their fifth album, Sirens, captures that bittersweet dichotomy between sadness and optimism as artfully as ever.
In fact, there’s a restless spark here that hasn’t always been present in the Weepies’ recordings; although they’ve been nothing if not consistent since making their debut with 2003’s Happiness, they’ve also audibly struggled at times to strike the balance that defines their best work. A five-year gap stretched between Sirens and their most recent effort, 2010’s Be My Thrill, and that fallow period has obviously served them well on the creative front: This album covers a lot of ground over its 16-song, 48-minute running order, and finds them stretching in ways that may surprise some longtime fans.
Of course, like any domestic duo whose partnership extends to the recording studio and the stage, the Weepies have a lot of real-life grist to draw on for their material, and it’s worth noting that Talan and Tannen were thrown plenty of curveballs during the years between Be My Thrill and Sirens — and like their songs, they ran the gamut from shadows to light. It isn’t important to delve into the details here; suffice it to say they’ve been through some delirious highs and grueling lows since we heard them last, and you can hear those experiences ringing out here, from the ominous tones of “No Trouble” to the gently adamant vow of devotion expressed in “Sunflower.”
That emotional rollercoaster is also subtly reflected in Sirens’ production, which tinkers with the Weepies’ sound to a refreshing degree. Some of these songs have a more lush finish than Talan and Tannen usually employ, while others incorporate a broader sonic palette than past efforts, like the processed vocals and percussion on the swerving “Fancy Things” or the splash of brass that colors the upbeat “Early Morning Riser.” It’s a far cry from the bare-bones approach of their earliest records, as the liner notes attest; these sessions boasted contributions from an impressive list of studio ringers that included Pete Thomas, Steve Nieve, Rami Jaffee and Tony Levin.
Yet it’s important to note that Sirens’ occasionally beefed-up sound is an evolution, not a departure — which is as good a way as any of describing the Weepies’ position in general on this album. If Talan and Tannen remain focused on themes of human relationships here, that’s as it should be; that’s where they excel, and based on the evidence presented in these songs, they’re only getting better as they go along. This is a big old warm blanket of an album, one that makes fine company whether you’re watching the sunrise or huddled during a dark night of the soul.
Here’s hoping it doesn’t take quite as long for the Weepies to weave their next one.