It’s not out till later this month, but reviews of Weinland’s new album, “Breaks In The Sun,” are already rolling in.
The Portland quintet’s hometown alt-weeklies found similar angles. Willamette Week called the record “more hopeful and less of a downer” than Weinland’s 2008 release, “La Lamentor.” The Portland Mercury said “Breaks” is “far less of a bummer than its (take-with-lots-of-alcohol) predecessor.”
Weinland frontman Adam Shearer doesn’t think his earlier work is that gloomy. But he understands the critics’ opinions.
Shearer, who’ll bring Weinland to Bend on Wednesday (see “If you go”), wrote the songs on “La Lamentor” as he was leaving his job as a quality manager for a large mental health organization. There, he investigated cases of abuse and neglect, and he heard and saw things no one should have to hear and see.
And those songs reflect that.
“They’re dark. There’s murder ballads and stories about real-life things that are hard to hear about, hopefully wrapped up in some sort of catchy, ironic pop song, and people really dug into how dark that record was even though I wouldn’t have expected that coming out of the gates,” Shearer said in a telephone interview earlier this week. “I hear what people say about our music and I think, ‘Have you listened to Tom Waits or Leonard Cohen?’ Because I think our music isn’t nearly as biting as some of the music that’s been very popular over the last four or five decades.”
But “La Lamentor” is a year old, and its songs even older. “Breaks In The Sun,” out April 21 on Badman Recording Co., is a happier, livelier album, relatively speaking. In the same way that, say, Lava Butte is taller than Pilot Butte.
Which is to say, not by much.
Not coincidentally, Shearer quit that job at the mental health facility a while back.
“I just wasn’t functioning very well, and I think that’s the result of being a witness to things that other people don’t understand,” he said. “And it makes it really hard to interact and be empathetic and compassionate the way you need to be in a relationship with friends or a romantic relationship.”
“It just got to the point where I couldn’t … understand a regular problem because I’ve seen stuff that they don’t even think of to put in movies,” Shearer continued. “You find yourself checked out when you’re not at work, and that’s a really unhealthy balance.”
For Shearer, the opportunity to regain balance came when he and his band mates decided it was time to ditch the day jobs and try to make Weinland a full-time gig. “La Lamentor” received good reviews, and the band got a couple of “nice little momentum jumps” last year that convinced them to make the leap.
“It seems like the iron’s hot, and there doesn’t seem to be any point in struggling to find a job and then having to lose it again to tour, so we just figured we’d go for it,” Shearer said. “We did the things our dads hate to hear, and we emptied (our savings) to pay for everything.”
That decision was made easier after Weinland heard “Breaks,” which was recorded over 18 straight days in the studio. It’s a stunning record packed with gentle, graceful folk songs and more memorable melodies than you ever hear on the radio these days.
And with Shearer’s high-lonesome voice telling the tales, the tunes that do deal with heavy subjects don’t seem quite so weighty.
“This record we feel is really good and we feel like if people get the chance to hear it, that we can possibly have a return on the amount of work and effort that we’ve put into (it) for the last few years,” Shearer said. “We all felt like there’s material on that record that is meaningful.”
Comparing a band to other, better-known artists often falls short, but in this case, it works: “Breaks In The Sun” sounds like a collaboration between Neil Young and Elliott Smith, equal parts hope and hooks, twang and torment.
“I do think that this record is more hopeful than the last one and more upbeat, and I think that has a lot to do with the fact that all I’ve been doing for the last year is playing music,” Shearer said. “That’s what I love to do and that’s what I want to do, and so I think the outlook is just sunnier.
“Our biggest problems right now are financial issues … and there are always relationship things,” he continued. “But nobody’s tried to kill me this year. I haven’t cleaned up any blood this year. The things that I did on a regular basis … aren’t part of my daily agenda anymore.”
These days, the members of Weinland spend their time writing, recording and playing music, and that’s nothing if not therapeutic, Shearer said. If it has a positive effect on the actual sound of the band, well, that’s all the better.
“I still love music that helps me work though my issues that I battle with, because I think I’ll always battle with them,” he said. “But there’s definitely a lot more appreciation of people and life in this record than there was in the last one, which was really just about bloodletting.”
It’s easier, perhaps, to express appreciation for people and life when you’re happy with your own place in the world.
“I got forced to do what I was supposed to do. I got forced out of avoiding taking a chance on music, and I think that’s what we’re supposed to do,” Shearer said. “I had a really good time this last year shaking some of that off my bones and driving around the country and playing music and getting poor.”