Cry Like This 

764-Hero leaves behind some of its emo roots with Weekend of Sounds.

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John Atkins doesn’t want you to worry about him. He doesn’t want you to call the suicide hotline; he doesn’t need you to take away his bottles of aspirin. He’s just fine. Sure, when Atkins sings lines like, “I hate to bring you down/ but it’s too late,” from “Something Else,” it might seem like there’s some cause for alarm. But just because the general mood of 764-Hero’s latest disc, Weekend of Sounds (Up Records), is about as chipper as Morrissey on a Nick Drake binge, Atkins wants to reiterate: Everything is fine.

Sound Affects
POISON Crack a Smile … and More! (Capitol) Why release an album that was shelved back in 1996? Because Poison is now on the comeback trail, thanks to that little jab in the nostalgia ribs known as VH1’s Behind the Music: band gets famous, band sucks down drugs like Skittles, band crashes—you know the drill. Crack a Smile was recorded with guitar-whiz Blues Saraceno, who could actually play, unlike then-residing-in-the-heroin-hospital twiddler C.C. DeVille. The and More portion rounds the CD out to 20 (!) tracks, including an MTV Unplugged version of “Talk Dirty to Me” that was probably the reason for the series’s cancellation—Poison deserves thanks for at least that.

DEE SNIDER Never Let the Bastards Wear You Down (Koch) Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider possessed one of the ballsiest voices in metal back in the day, but the band could never keep up—or so it seemed. On Snider’s umpteenth bid for solo cred, it’s apparent that the real culprit has always been his own lousy songwriting. Bastards is a collection of the Deester’s tunes that didn’t even make the cut onto his previous solo and/or Twisted Sister albums. Then again, there’s a horrific cover of Dion’s “The Wanderer” included, so that songwriting thesis is shot. Hmmm …

FUTURE LOOP FOUNDATION PhunkRoc (Liquid) According to people who keep track of this stuff, jungle and drum ’n’ bass are one in the same style of dance music—now ya know. Future Loop Foundation (DJ Mark Barott) adds a dash of ambient, jazzy funk to its hopped-up J-D’n’B, then stirs it all together with relentless repetition. “Gimme Some Blow” and “Live at the Apollo,” both clocking it at over nine minutes, are perfect for driving co-workers over the edge.

SOUNDTRACK Coyote Ugly (Curb) Whenever you think of hot, half-nekkid women shaking their glistening wet booties on a bar, you naturally think of … Don Henley? Charlie Daniels? LeeAnn Rimes, maybe—but only after a few more birthdays, one would hope. Following Rimes’ four indistinguishable, naggingly mid-’80s lead-off tracks (by pop hack Diane Warren), that cool dance mix of INXS’ “Need You Tonight” and Snap’s “Power” heard in the movie’s trailers are nowhere to be found, making no case whatsoever for buying this instead of ordering an ’80s hits package off a late-night infomercial. Aside from the hot, half-nekkid women on the cover, that is. It’ll sell millions.

—Bill Frost

“I get a lot of that, ‘Oh, your stuff is so depressing,’” Atkins says. “I see it as melancholy. I’d hate to have it seem like, ‘Oh, I’m so bummed out all the time.’ Yeah, I don’t really know if it’s happy music per se. But I think music should make you feel something, and maybe this will make you feel introspective.”

It’s obvious Atkins has been feeling introspective of late. While the Seattle-based 764-Hero has never been as bubbly as a cheerleading squad, the singer-songwriter has buried body parts throughout Weekend of Sounds—a broken heart here, some thin skin there, a warped mind in the middle. It gives the whole album a feeling of demons being exorcised, Atkins letting go of everything that bothers him. It might be the reason that, while the disc sounds nothing like The Cure or the Jesus & Mary Chain—think more Built to Spill without all the guitar pyrotechnics—764-Hero has recently been compared to Britain’s two biggest connoisseurs of spiritual decay.

That’s fine with Atkins. He thinks that while 764-Hero has been rolling around in the indie underground, Weekend of Sounds might open some doors for the group. The trio’s most consistent album to date, the disc is poppy enough to win over a few people on the fringe, appealing to more than just the hard-core college rock contingent. Like Modest Mouse’s The Moon & Antarctica and Built to Spill’s Keep It Like a Secret, Atkins sees Weekend of Sounds as his band’s transition from a quiet secret discussed only in whispers, to a well-known fact.

“I think that every record, we’re getting better at this,” Atkins says. “Every record we’re growing. And with this one, friends who have never really said anything about our music are like, ‘This one is really good.’ It makes me think that we’ve tapped into something. Sure, you work hard on a record and you want people to like it, but you just have to do it. But I think this one really has something to it.”

It’s not like Atkins planned it this way. He says Weekend of Sounds was just one of those happy accidents, the band stumbling onto something new. The group unintentionally left behind some of its emo roots—what originally scored the band its early critical praise—and tried a few new things. It just happened to work out.

“We’re not a band that plans anything,” Atkins says. “We don’t set out to make a certain record. We hadn’t actually written much until right before we went into the studio. We hadn’t played any of the songs live, so rather than working them out in front of an audience, we just tried different things.

“Like ‘Leslie.’ We made that up in the studio. We’d never done that before. Polly [Johnson, drummer] jokingly said, ‘Write something pretty.’ So I did.” It’s one of the standout tracks on the disc. Starting with a simple funk, the rhythm section holding down a tight groove, Atkins guitar gliding on top, it slowly builds to a chugging blast of distortion. Atkins bellows “keep it honest” over and over in the background. The dynamics swing like a pendulum. Though the track clocks in at over five minutes, it feels like the perfect indie pop song: ominous, cool and catchy.

It’s a long way from where the band was five years ago. Originally just a quiet duo, Atkins and Johnson exploring the limitations and freedoms of drums and guitar, the band helped pioneer emo, churning out ardent tracks and building a cult following around the country.

But the band’s debut, Salt Sinks & Sugar Floats, while inventive, felt like it was missing something—namely, low end. Unlike Sleater-Kinney, whose twin-guitar attack manages to bomb without coming anywhere near 100 hertz, 764-Hero’s delicate nature needed a bass to groove. In 1998, the band was scheduled to perform live on the radio and decided to add a bassist for the gig. Atkins called longtime friend James Bertram, who had done time with Beck and Red Stars Theory, to come join the group for a set. It worked out so well, Bertram joined the group. Since then, it’s like the group has been fully realized, all the right pieces coming together. Atkins hopes that with Weekend of Sounds, it all pays off.

“Lets put it this way: I can see not wanting to have a day job. Up Records treats us great, don’t get me wrong. It’s three people and they’re my friends. There’s no bureaucracy or worrying about creative control. But I can see why a lot of indie bands lately have gone over to major labels. There are bands that still make weird, cool records on major labels. And it’s not like we have any set dogmas about staying indie. It would be nice someday to live on music. I guess that’s the dream of every person in a band, isn’t it?”

Yeah, I think it is.

764-HERO plays Kilby Court Tuesday, Aug. 15 ($6).

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Jeff Inman

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