Jane Weaver: Loops in the Secret Society

Music Reviews Jane Weaver
Jane Weaver: Loops in the Secret Society

A song isn’t a static work of art, set into stone once it’s been recorded and released into the world. In fact, songs evolve all the time, most often in the live setting, where musicians might change a lyric or try a different arrangement or simply improvise.

But even recorded songs aren’t museum pieces. They can be living things, too, if an artist chooses to revisit and reimagine them. Take, for example, Twin Fantasy, the 2011 Car Seat Headrest album that the band’s creative core, Will Toledo, re-recorded in 2018. The newer version was not only an upgrade in sound quality over the original, it also contained real content changes, such as lyrical updates and new instrumental passages.

The new album from English singer-songwriter Jane Weaver is a similar exercise. After 25 years as a cult favorite—first with English pop bands Kill Laura and Misty Dixon, then for the past two decades as an idiosyncratic solo act—Weaver broke through to a larger audience with her two most recent full-lengths, 2014’s The Silver Globe and 2017’s Modern Kosmology. On the former, she found her aesthetic sweet spot somewhere near the interstellar intersection of folk music, krautrock and psychedelic pop. Three years later, she perfected that sound on Kosmology, coming off like a warmer, rootsier descendant of bands like Broadcast and Stereolab.

Now, she’s back with a curveball of sorts. Her new album Loops in the Secret Society is a patchwork of reworked versions of songs from her back catalogue (mostly her last two albums) interspersed with newly composed instrumental interludes. The idea for Loops apparently grew out of a solo tour, wherein Weaver had to figure out how to play her music without a backing band. The new album, then, is a document of her committing those tour arrangements to tape before moving on to entirely new compositions.

Generally speaking, the Loops versions are more synth-heavy and rhythm-driven than their original counterparts. Among the tracks from Modern Kosmology, “H>A>K” keeps its breakneck pace, but its low end is hollowed out and replaced with accompaniment that’s lighter and noisier. “Did You See Butterflies”—once a lean cut of glistening pop—is retrofitted with punchier beats that reinforce its motorik groove. And the new take on Kosmology’s middling closer “I Wish” is stronger than the original, with strummed guitars and moodier synths providing more framework for Weaver’s mushy melody.

The difference between old and new is more distinct on tracks from The Silver Globe. The album version of “Arrows,” for example, is a dream-pop smear staked to a bossa nova beat; on Loops, the beat is beefed up, which brings the rest of the song into clearer focus and gives it more momentum. On the other hand, Globe’s pulsing funk cut “Mission Desire” gets a buzzier treatment and loses some of its swagger in the process. The original is a badass strut built atop a throbbing bass line and decorated with shimmering synths that seem to engulf Weaver’s vocals as the song moves along. On the Loops version, the bass is muffled and the song never really crescendos into a swirl of noise. As a result, it feels thinner and less substantial.

As for the 11 interludes on Loops—ambient sketches and sound experiments, mostly—they’ll appeal to Weaver’s fans as morsels of new music, and perhaps intriguing peepholes into her creative process. For more casual listeners awaiting her next move after Modern Kosmology, however, they’re likely to be just as perplexing as the rest of this collection of sort-of-new-but-actually-old not-really-remixes. They’re not required listening, but it is interesting to hear Weaver recontextualize these works and, in turn, provide a reminder that songs are living things. And if you’re looking for something to tide you over to Weaver’s next proper album, Loops in the Secret Society might just do the trick.

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