Having been five years since sophomore LP The Cosmic Drama and three since the rejuvenating Follow the Rattle of the Afghan Guitar EP, followers of Brian Warren, Weatherbox’s Conor Oberst-like mastermind, began to worry that the handful of new songs floating around Youtube would never see the light of studio time. Historically having no luck with labels (Doghouse Records incident here), it was finally announced in late 2013 that Weatherbox had found a home on Triple Crown, an honest-to-god capable label. The fit seemed right, with Weatherbox listed next to similarly small-but-talented acts such as Bad Books, O’Brother, and From Indian Lakes. And in April, it finally came – “WEATHERBOX FLIES IN ALL DIRECTIONS COMING MAY 13th” And not only did the record finally exist, but it included almost all of the songs that I feared would be lost to the five-year void between LPs. Yet even the track listing was rumored to be an issue for Warren, with Triple Crown wanting fewer tracks and in a slightly different order. Rumor has it he won the first battle, but lost the latter. While I can in no way confirm this, I have altered my digital copy of the album, switching “Pagan Baby” with “Bring Us the Head of Weatherbox,” making it the opener, as Warren supposedly intended. And frankly, it makes sense, and I’ll explain why later.
Early on, Warren conceded that the record is indeed conceptual, albeit loosely. In 2011, while writing Flies in All Directions, he was quoted here saying, “I’ve been doing more thematic writing recently with my lyrics; not really a concrete story, but there are definitely these kind of overarching themes and moods. Like, I don’t want to call it a concept album because that sounds dumb…..but yeah man, it’s totally a concept album!” The record serves as a twist on the archetypal literary and cinematic coming-of-age story – it is a coming-of-band record, postmodern in its self-awareness, often self-referential, Meta, even, chronicling the birth and rise of what is now fully-grown Weatherbox. To say it’s clever would be a spineless understatement.
I’ll tackle the concept later, but for now let’s focus on the return of Warren’s trademark lyrical style. The simple delivery, infectious melodies that change on a dime, it’s all here, along with the typical hallucinogenic imagery rife with references to the devil and the cosmos, of course. Flies in All Directions also finds Warren more grammatically playful than ever, toying with syntax and tense in lines like, “I made this happen and everybody goes and got unbroken,” and, “So I corner-crept, I bathroom-wept, lonely, oh poor me.” Adding to the listener’s involvement in the record is Warren’s emphasis on “we vs. they” in many of his verses, seemingly “we” being that which is subversive and “they” being those who are in control. This delineation could be a result of a previous breakdown Warren touched on recently here where he explains, “I thought my parents were cops and aliens. I thought there was a huge conspiracy out to get me. It made everything really confusing for a long time, and this record is putting it all into this one storyline.” Clearly, some rather heavy thoughts are being exorcised here.
The music itself could be called pop-punk. You could get away with that. “Bathin’ in the Fuss” is pretty poppy, “Pagan Baby,” is a little punk, sure. But Weatherbox’s ability to layer instruments, to send guitars diverging only to converge later into an entirely new progression pushes far beyond the technical limits and imaginations of many bands they would be categorized with. While songs like “Bring Us the Head of Weatherbox,” “Bathin’ in the Fuss,” and “Kickflips” maintain those bouncy guitars and catchy melodies fans fell in love with back with 2007’s American Art, tracks like “The Drones” and “Ghost Malls” exhibit the grungy, desperate fuzz Warren has been experimenting with more recently. And the jams, my satan, the jams. If the rolling and unpredictable bridge of “Ghost Malls” doesn’t get you, the chaotic and downright-playful ending of “Drag Out” will. All in all, the record is an incredibly fun and rewarding spin based on its song structures and energy alone. The songs are fully realized, and there can’t be said to be one moment of filler (even if the first half of “Drag Out” doesn’t do much for me personally). As Warren mentions in the previous interview, “It was the record I wanted to make and never had the means to.”
While a few songs remain a little too steeped in Weatherbox metaphor to confidently interpret, the majority of the tracks on Flies in All Directions are relatively clear. Would-be opener “Bring Us the Head of Weatherbox,” with its chant-like chorus of “Wake up!” serves as Weatherbox’s wake-up call from dormancy. Lyrics like “lost my hard drives” and “In the process of clearing cobwebs, I crossed a mighty line” evoke a fresh beginning, a clean slate, so to speak. Several other songs throughout the record reflect and elaborate on these themes. “The Fresh Prints of Bill Ayers” shows Warren’s desire to be heard (“I will paint my stories on the Gates of Light, warning of my rain, my pouring on parades, my storming…I will paint”), while “Bathin’ in the Fuss” highlights resilience and an urge to inspire, including the blunt “sue me for thinking Weatherbox was worth a shot” and even a call to “Épater la Bourgeoisie,” a mantra for early French Decadent poets and surrealists meaning (loosely) “shock the middle-class.” Next up is “Radio Hive,” an honest lamentation of today’s popular music. Warren muses, “Now when I drive through the radio hive, we turn each other off. The message has changed from just bad to insane, but I keep my fingers crossed.” The song is upbeat and hopeful in tone, and ironically, in another (read: better) dimension, its relentless hooks would land it some pretty heavy radio rotation.
Not all songs on Flies in All Directions are so optimistic. Both “Pagan Baby” and “The Devil and Whom?” present a hesitant Warren, almost jaded, seemingly questioning how worthwhile this whole “band thing” really is. Lines from “Pagan Baby” like “Baked into the crust, I’m comfy reading eulogies,” and, “You heard we were a good band, well, you didn’t hear it from us” point to an apathy on the brink of becoming a desire for obscurity. “The Devil and Whom?,” recently confirmed to be the sister song of Manchester Orchestra’s “The Mansion” and featuring Manchester vocalist Andy Hull as the Devil, darkly explores Warren’s reluctance to continue on through a series of extended metaphors (“I drift along. I lost the war. I throw out my Crown. I’ll sing no more. But just as the swamp sucks the Crown down its throat, there’s a snap, and it’s magically back in my boat”), even including the fall of Satan (“They called it a fall and they all were half-right. My hands had to clap The Miraculous Dive”). The song may be Warren at his most lyrically masterful ever.
If the first half of the LP wasn’t enough to talk about, “Dark All Night for Us” is where many of the record’s recurring motifs coalesce. The appearance of the “we vs. they” dynamic (“They’re a curtain, they’re hiding certain twists in the plot to keep you within their grasp”) serves to tie the record together in several intersecting ways. The line “We were a pox on the lobe of their hive brain” immediately connects songs “Radio Hive” and “The Drones” under one, overarching metaphor. Warren introduces a few ideas here as well, expressing a yearning for a fully functioning band with the line “You can’t make art in a vacuum state or become something great alone,” which is then reverberated in the following song “Drag Out” as he repeats “I’d give ‘mine’ to be an ‘us’.” Also introduced during “Dark All Night for Us” is “the compass” (“We were stripped of the compass, for sure”), which comes full circle towards the end of the triumphant “The Last White Lighter,” Flies in All Directions’ final full-band track, when Warren exclaims, “And we know there’s big and bad things waiting for us. At least we’re no longer lost, we have the compass!” The white lighter metaphor is an obscure one, but not a difficult one to dissect. White lighters are “bad luck,” any empty stoner or Newport-smoker would LOVE to tell you. White lighters are to be avoided – they are unwanted, cursed, even. “We are the White Lighters” is a line celebrating weirdness, for lack of a better word. The song itself is seemingly a joyous reaction to the record’s completion (“Got the book bound, encoded sound, in the Dead House, I won’t let you down”), and finally culminates with the shouted motto, “Down with their trash! Up with our flag!” To close Flies in All Directions, Warren chose to include the acoustic powerhouse “Love Me a Good Microcosm,” which I won’t ruin here. Just watch this.
To have something so long-anticipated actually meet your lofty and probably unfair expectations is a beautiful thing. It’s a rarity that should be respected and cherished. Weatherbox has crafted a truly unique collection of music here, which is why they deserve your attention. And the best thing about this record? It’s not that much better than their previous two. They’re just that good. Hopefully Flies in All Directions brings Weatherbox the steam they need to keep this momentum up, because Warren’s songwriting combined with a committed band and a capable label is something everyone should keep an eye on.