An alate is a winged reproductive of a social insect (especially ants or termites, but the term can also be applied to aphids and some thrips). Alate females are typically those destined to become queens (also referred to as gynes), whereas alate males are occasionally referred to as “drones” (or “kings”, in the case of termites). However, the existence of reproductives that do not have wings necessitates a term to distinguish the winged from the wingless reproductive forms. This is an example of polymorphism associated with eusociality.
—Wikipedia entry on “alate”
On Weep‘s latest album, Alate, vocalist and guitarist Doc Hammer stretches his musical and vocal capacities into heretofore unexplored territories, with mixed results. Although not as immediately gratifying as the band’s previous release, Worn Thin, the expansive nature of Alate still brings considerable pleasures.
Opening track “It’s So Late” seems to shrug and say, “Oh hey, remember us? We’re Weep and this is what we sound like,” featuring all the hallmarks that we’ve come to associate with the band: ringing guitars, New Romantic synths, vaguely Goth basslines, and memorable melodies. Yet immediately we sense a change in Weep’s sound. Hammer’s voice is still gravelly, but there is a sprightly nature that we have not heard before. It’s startling and charming all at once.
“Halved Heart” provides more surprises as Hammer’s strangled vocals are layered with sweeping, orchestral keyboards. I’ll be honest; the obvious strain on his vocals left me confused and a little embarrassed at first, but now it’s grown on me. Not everyone can belt it out, but that’s okay. His cracking voice is actually endearing.
The gentle, almost delicate “Lies Like Prayers” features organ as well as those Weep guitar sounds we know so well. Hammer’s voice is yet again surprising as it’s more intimate and (dare I say) confessional than ever before.
With the Siouxsie & The Banshees sheen of “Drift Towards Home,” the lyrical themes of Alate finally start to sink in: cold, dreams, tears, sleep, water, rain, drowning. At first glance, Hammer’s elaborate visualizations might seem merely evocative, but there’s something more. For a person who puts so much of himself into every artistic creation—from his paintings, to the dialogue and characters of The Venture Bros., to his musical references—are we overstepping our boundaries to wonder at the origins of lines like, Then you waited years ’til I began to drown/For your chance to push my head down?
The halfway mark arrives and with it an astonishing, impeccable cover of Bauhaus’s “The Passion Of Lovers,” which fans will remember hearing last February. It’s downright ballsy to attempt a cover of a Bauhaus song, but Weep brings it. Even the harmonies sound uncannily like Peter Murphy, like did he sneak in to the studio or what? It’s an outstanding cover.
My personal favorite on the album (as of this review) is “This Stolen Moon.” It begins with Gary Numan-like keyboards, which is definitely something I’ve not heard on a Weep album before, though the song itself is not at all Numan-esque. Nor is it Weep-esque, or at least the version of Weep we’ve come to embrace over the last few years. It has timpani in it, for god’s sake! “This Stolen Moon,” both lyrically and musically, is a tremendous leap forward in the evolution of this band and anyone who hasn’t yet heard Weep should hear this tune immediately.
Although it sounds nothing like the previous song, “Away To Nothing” is another unusual one, with an off-kilter chorus that recalls My Bloody Valentine’s “Feed Me With Your Kiss” in spirit and oddly enough, Duran Duran. Next is a reworking of “Can’t Be True” which in all ways is a vast improvement over the already-good original version on Never Ever, but which overstays its welcome by about a minute and a half. “They All Denied” is catchy and danceable but still has dark undercurrents.
The last two songs, “Fifteen Times” and “Alate Ardor,” are almost like two parts of a whole. While “Fifteen Times” feels like a bonus track from The Cure’s Disintegration, it’s the most minimalist thing Weep has yet done. This is carried through into “Alate Ardor” which slows everything down into an end credits elegy. Somewhat awkward lines like “My back is soiled with want” are mostly overshadowed by the final plea to “Please give me wings.” The symphonic sounds hinted at on Worn Thin‘s “Interlude” are fully realized here. It’s ambitious but I’m not sure if I like it.
If you’ll pardon my continuation of the pun Doc Hammer has established with the album’s artwork and other imagery, Alate can be viewed as the sound of a band in its pupal state, a transition period that, although not wholly satisfactory, is adventurous enough to give fans hope for the future in addition to much enjoyment in the present.
Alate was released on August 28 through Projekt Records and is available to order from their website. I’d like to call special attention to the breathtaking packaging and artwork on Alate, which can only be fully appreciated by holding it in your hot little hands.