Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore gripped up the demo version of a prominent track off Bitter Bitter Weeks’ sophomore album and cleared a spot for it on one of his Protest Records compilations from 2003. At the time, the song, “Revenge,” was a delicately rendered but defiant call upon deaf ears to steer away from what was to become a relentless, seemingly eternal period of war. As the title of Bitter Bitter Weeks’ second album as well as its opening track, “Revenge” sets a weary, heartfelt precedent for the ten songs that follow.
Revenge‘s songs come from Philadelphia-native Brian McTear. The name Bitter Bitter Weeks addresses only half of what he’s known for — he’s earned a gleaming rep for his capable production work for bands including the Bigger Lovers, Mazarin, the Trouble with Sweeney and Matt Pond PA. And he amply applies those skills to Revenge. After his eponymous debut full-length was released in early 2003, McTear’s friend Sara Weaver, who appeared on that record, died of leukemia. McTear’s memories of her play a large part on Revenge; the songwriter peers inward to attempt to make sense of losses and gains.
His notion that “it’s clear as a blue sky now” in the title track is delivered on a plane that’s a tad higher than Jeff Tweedy’s weathered cords could offer, but the same weariness registers through and through. He confronts a contingent of flag- and Bible-cloaked Yes Men to announce that not everyone is behind a miscalculated caravan to this “Revenge.” He holds nothing back in his assessment of this bleak era, but the album’s instrumental elements remain largely conservative: McTear relies on warm acoustic and electric guitar, piano and the vibrant backup vocals of close friends and musical acquaintances.
As Bitter Bitter Weeks, McTear steers clear of falling into a waltz-y acoustic-vocal slump by breaking the track list up with a couple of brighter rock numbers. The wonderfully memorable “Song for John” is recorded live in Houston and is attributed to a smaller unit called “The Lucys,” a name McTear considers very important in his list of inspirations. His musical inspirations are worthy of mention, but perhaps the bigger picture is in his emotional inspiration. McTear carries the weight of a thousand ships on his shoulders, and even with a little help from his friends, he’s transparently fragile. That fragility makes him no less an artist who should be commended for what he’s saying and the elegant manner in which he says it.