by Luke Baumgarten & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & S & lt;/span & eattle is at war with itself over the Weapons. On the one hand, a handful of upstart bloggers, webzinesters, and the Seattle Times (the area's austere, grandfatherly paper of record) are using the Weapons to hail the return of grunge. Meanwhile, The Stranger, an alt-weekly that's become the be-all and end-all for arts coverage in the town, has conspicuously avoided using that word. As have the band members themselves. Instead, The Stranger uses bland, generic descriptors like "rooted in straight pop but [using] different influences (hard rock, whiny country)." That sounds kinda like grunge. The Weapons themselves describe their music as "punchy, occasionally trashy-sounding gutter-pop." So by "punchy," you mean chord-driven, and by "trashy" you mean sloppy, and by "gutter" you mean garage? Like grunge then? Well, no one in the scene wants to call it that.
It's curious that such a stigma would be placed on a single word. It's especially strange since "grunge" is one of those rare genre tags that is immediately descriptive. Someone says, "Mudhoney is grunge," and you get an immediate sense of exactly what they sound like. It's understandable that the Weapons themselves would want to avoid the tag, since it's such a polarizing word, and probably pretty aversive to the Seattle scenesters who have spent years defining themselves negatively by how grunge they aren't. But what about The Stranger? Why not just call it what it is?
Well, because they've been at the forefront of the hating all along, which makes The Stranger -- a brazenly liberal paper that once put an illustration of the pope and Terri Schiavo, half-dead, sprinting toward their graves on the cover -- suddenly seem more conservative musically than Seattle's most prominent daily. They seem a little unwilling to call the Weapons what they are because that would mean they'd need to undo what they've spent like a decade doing: exorcising the ghost of Kurt Cobain with intense, self-hating scorn. Grunge wasn't even a real thing, they say; it was manufactured outside of Seattle by media conglomerates (MTV, namely). That wasn't our thing; it was theirs.
There's some truth to the grunge-was-manufactured-from-without argument, but it's a convenient, inflated truth. The name came from outside, but the sound didn't. The sound was born just in the western Washington area, and it was a very uniform aesthetic. Like SoCal punk or Death Row hip-hop, when you hear the term "grunge," a) you know where it comes from and b) you know what it sounds like.
So now the Seattle scene is avoiding the grunge title without avoiding the sound, dancing around a label because of a stigma that was attached after the fact, while tentatively dipping their toes back in to test the turgid, dark, metal-inflected waters.
Turns out the waters are great. The Weapons are damn good. They're so good that the Times, via largely unknown methods, declared them Seattle's fourth-best new band last December, behind third-place finishers and current hype machines Band of Horses. It's pretty obvious, further -- though perhaps more so for those of us who weren't inundated with grunge hype the way Seattleites were -- that their big influences are grunge. Which means, you know, that grunge isn't the black hole everyone seems to remember it as. What's painted as grunge so dourly in our minds isn't anything intrinsic to the genre. It was massive, reactionary hype backlash, and now it's begun to fade a bit. We've begun to take the sound back, and it's as good as we (perhaps reluctantly) remember, so why not just bite the bullet and embrace the word, too? The Weapons are, slowly, telling the Times that they've been called grunge "enough that it must be true." That's the sound of healing.
The Weapons play Get Down in Browne's (formerly Elkfest) this weekend with 10 other bands. Free. See Sound Advice for times.