I found Wheat by very strange means. The podcast Throwing Fits (at the time known by a different name) uses “Teenage Dirtbag” as its theme. The song is by the band Wheatus, and they had that band’s frontman, Brendan B. Brown, on the show. For whatever reason, I remembered that I had heard or seen somewhere of another band that was called simply “Wheat”, and decided to look it up. What I found is a unique band that’s become one of my favorites.
It’s difficult to describe Wheat’s sound. Dave Fridmann co-produced the album, and best known as the bassist of Mercury Rev and producer for the Flaming Lips, and having his name attached does hint a it a bit. Brent DiCrescenzo, in the contemporary Pitchfork review of Hope and Adams, compared the album’s sound to a “hypnotic zeppelin” to which “the Flaming Lips, Pavement, Wilco, and the American Analog Set lazily hold on, uninterested, sitting in lawn chairs and smoking cigarettes”. He also refers to the album’s “60-watt soft glow”, and although comparing Wheat to any other band feels a bit dubious, DiCrescenzo’s choice of references feels more accurate than any others I’ve read.
Hope and Adams opens with an instrumental before going into its two singles, “Don’t I Hold You” and “Raised Ranch Revolution.” The former is possibly their most well-known song, as a re-recorded version was used in Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown1. Aside from that, though, it’s also a great introduction to the band’s world. Soft synths and tame drums linger while lead singer Scott Levesque asks, “Don’t I hold you like you want to be held? And don’t I treat you like you want?” Although that may read as sad, Levesque’s voice gives it a melancholy tenderness as he continues into the chorus: “And you’re running away. And what’s your name? Like I’m in the way.” As the song progresses, a tame but almost soaring guitar riff joins in. The metaphor that comes to mind for me is VapoRub: there’s a strong sensation, but at the same time it soothes.
“Raised Ranch Revolution” comes in on the heels of “Don’t I Hold You” and carries the album to further reaches. Where “Don’t I Hold You” stays steady in the realm of its softness, “Raised Ranch Revolution” goes into a more traditional guitar riff. But don’t expect a traditional rocker: the guitar jams at its mid tempo pace for about a minute, when Levesque comes in with his same cooling voice, noting, “things are looking pricier now.” After two or so minutes, when the refrain “some things can’t be ironed out” is done, the band goes into a crescendo and a minute-long outro complete with atmospheric “ah” vocals.
The rest of the album follows the same ebb and flow, going from soft acoustic numbers to vocal delivery that, in the hands of another band at another time, could lead into a real anthemic track. “Someone With Strengths” and “Body Talk (part 2)” exemplify their most toned-down side, both being primarily acoustic and sedate—the latter song even references Paul Simon’s “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard”2. “No One Ever Told Me”, meanwhile, shows how they approach largeness without actually growing, boasting an “ah-ah-ah” chorus that sounds like the best anthem rock band you’ve heard if they were sized down to a garage.
There are a few oddballs, namely “More Than You’ll Ever Know”, which is feedback-filled and has distorted vocals, while still maintaining the album’s soft glow. Most often, though, the songs straddle the sedate and energetic modes. “Be Brave” starts with an almost Appleseed Cast-esque3 jam before leading into a passionate Levesque asking, “Standing on high facing love, try, what are you going to do?” “San Diego” goes from a timid opening to a more elevated bridge and into a sound collage-esque outro.
Ultimately, Hope and Adams only has two tracks that could be played as singles—and they actually were released as singles—and it’s the first two proper songs. The album is best looked at as a whole than by its parts, as the experience of how Wheat make everything flow is part of its greatness. Of course, it helps that the parts are beautiful on their own.
Wheat would go on to have a twist-and-turn career path. After almost finishing recording their third album, they signed with Columbia and rerecorded it. That album, Per Second, Per Second, Per Second… Every Second found the band moving in a much more pop-oriented direction, with more normal song structures and more polished production (still done by Fridmann). Ultimately the album was a commercial flop and the group left Columbia. Soon after Ricky Brennan left the band. They continued as a duo and released another album independently in 2007, Everyday I Said a Prayer for Kathy and Made a One Inch Square, which is far weirder than Hope and Adams. Since then they’ve released one more album, White Ink, Black Ink, along with a handful of singles and EPs. They never announced a break-up, but their official website doesn’t exist anymore, although there is a mirror/portal of sorts with lots of content. They do have a somewhat active Facebook page, but it seems to be run by the same guy who runs the portal.
Although their current status may be mysterious, Wheat has left behind a trove of music that’s not nearly as well-known as it should be, and there’s no better entrance point than Hope and Adams.
A movie perhaps most notable for being the origin of the “main pixie dream girl” trope. ↩
The refrain of “Body Talk (part 2)” contains the line “goodbye to Rose, my queen of corona”. ↩
“Almost”, I say, because that band’s more representative albums, Mare Vitalis and the Low Level Owl volumes, hadn’t yet been released. They had only one album out, The End of the Ring Wars, when Wheat recorded this album. Ring Wars does suggest the style the ‘Seed Cast would become famous for, but it’s much more in line with Mineral and the like than what they’d become. ↩