Orlando Weeks’ debut solo album ‘A Quickening’ catalogued the emotions and expectations that accompany imminent parenthood: anxieties and anticipation, hopes and fears, a monumentally personal yet also an undeniably universal experience. On reflection, however, its focus was on expectancy: the small wonders of new life were left largely unspoken. As Weeks’ new reality took shape, it would be natural – expected, even – for his follow up to document what came next.
“It definitely started with the idea of wanting to fill in some of the blanks that I felt I had left with ‘A Quickening’,” he considers. “But quite quickly it turned into something broader. If I was at a crossroads with my writing, the choice was always to take the more positive and uplifting sounding step. Perhaps it shouldn’t have, but as an approach it felt surprisingly novel to me.”
As the project took shape, Weeks’ creativity offered him a sense of self-preservation as the world became engulfed by the COVID pandemic; “It sounds trite saying it but writing the record, with that philosophy in mind, did become vaguely therapeutic. And if not therapeutic then it was a wonderful distraction. It was whatever the opposite of catharsis is. I wasn’t screaming to let everything out, I was just purposefully holding on to and cultivating moments that felt good.”
The result is his new album ‘Hop Up’, its title being a buoyant, idiophonic representation of the spirit that it contains. Weeks wrote the songs at home before spending two sessions, each spanning three weeks, with the producer, solo artist and Deek Recordings founder Bullion. He helped Weeks hone in on a specific, open-hearted approach to leftfield pop: very natural, warm instrumentation manipulated in imaginative ways.
Weeks credits Bullion’s class, taste and open-mindedness, noting that “I’ve never worked with anyone who had such an identifiable aesthetic to their own music. There’s a class to what he does that I really wanted this record to be a part of.” Wildly productive, the album was completed from start-to-finish in just seven months, whereas Weeks’ previous albums and work with The Maccabees could take two to three years.
There’s a dichotomy to what the duo crafted. ‘Hop Up’ is a record that’s lean and concise, with a spacious quality that counters the heavily compressed, brick wall of sound that modern alt-pop can sometimes embody. Simultaneously, its relative simplicity doesn’t feel at all minimalist. Intriguing off-kilter touches flourishes ebb and flow at every point, each time sparking an interest but never overwhelming the songs.
It’s an approach that’s encapsulated in the album’s first single ‘Big Skies Silly Faces’. Its choral, dream-like beauty makes focal points of aspects that might be swamped by a more boisterous production: the otherworldly vocal harmonies courtesy of Katy J Pearson, the heartening piano embellishments, how Ben Reed’s bass grows from a supporting texture to the forefront of the sound.
‘Big Skies Silly Faces’ echoes Weeks’ original idea of poetically examining the rewarding and exhausting facets of fatherhood. But as a writer with an instinct for duality, it’s part of a wider idea inspired, in part, by the early Mike Leigh film ‘Nuts in May’.
“There’s something about that that’s always stayed with me,” ponders Weeks, “the very English absurdity of making the most of a situation. The desperation for any potential silver lining. Really though I think Big Skies Silly Faces is about how I can be my own worst enemy – “No stopping that sky high as its wide … my mind against my better thinking. know the feeling but wonder why…”
That interpretative thinking further resonates in the ‘80s rooted experimental pop of ‘Bigger’. On one hand it celebrates being sufficiently open-minded to embrace opportunities that broaden your life experience. “And on some level,” he laughs, “it’s about having a new person in your life and watching and being in such close proximity to them and their world balloon in every possible way.”
The most elated moment of a beatific set, ‘Look Who’s Talking Now’ is the most unguarded moment that Weeks has shared with the world. It’s all there in the effortlessly elegant lyric, “Look who’s falling in love again.” “I feel it over and over again and don’t have, or even feel as though i need to have, better words to say it.”
‘Hop Up’ continues to be soothing and surprising at every turn. Opening track ‘Deep Down, Way Out’ stirs an unlikely concoction, with character-fuelled bass stomp to its lolloping Krautrock-style rhythm, as swirling vocal harmonies recall 10cc. Elsewhere, ‘High Kicking’ is conversely a meditative moment with a comparatively heavyweight soundscape that’s boosted by tight West Coast inspired harmonies from Willie J Healey and vibraphone from Jonny Mansfield. ‘Hey You Hop Up’ is almost Wings-esque in a merry, beckoning come with me, sort of way. And by the time ‘Way To Go’ closes the record, ‘Hop Up’ has cast a spell that’s optimistic and gently inspirational.
In that respect, ‘Hop Up’ feels like a fitting addition to Weeks’ ever more increasingly, eclectic discography, each of which have taken us through life’s circuitous stages. While ‘The Gritterman’ was primarily about the power of having a purpose, it also heralded life’s fading embers. ‘A Quickening’ then took us to the expectations of new life, and now ‘Hop Up’ celebrates the now with ebullient pleasure.
“As last year rolled on, the atmosphere of this record played a major part in me maintaining a balanced headspace,” Weeks concludes. “And luckily I’m so porous that that balance spilled out into all of the other aspects of my life too. I feel as though I owe this record a lot.”
“My hope would be that anyone listening to ‘Hop Up’ feels lighter at its conclusion than they did at its start, and I hope the enthusiasm I feel for it translates.”