Tweedy

Review: Wilco – Star Wars

Wilco stunned the music world with the surprise release of their ninth studio album, Star Wars, a few weeks ago.  While we have seen some of the biggest pop stars on the planet undertake this kind of gambit (such as Beyonce and U2), it did not seem to be the kind of maneuver that the normally staid indie rock darlings would attempt.  However, the casual nature of the album’s release serves Star Wars well, as it fits the easy-going mood of the material; freed from the anxiety that comes with the build-up and anticipation of months of promotion, Wilco sounds as loose as it has ever been, and the result is the perfect album for a lazy summer afternoon.

Wilco reached their greatest commercial success with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost Is Born, albums that were intricately composed and fussily produced, but there has always been a part of the band’s identity that pushed back against that instinct and ease up a bit.  Jeff Tweedy most recently indulged in that tendency with his Tweedy side project he put out last year with his son, but unlike Sukirae or Wilco’s Sky Blue Sky, the looseness of Star Wars is based more on having fun than simple relaxation.  Even on moments like the sweet “Where Do I Begin”, the band is not afraid of blowing up a lovely ballad to explode in a noisy and triumphant finish.

In a stark contrast with the multi-part layered epics on The Whole Love, the music on Star Wars is stripped down to its basic elements, with songs rarely stretched beyond three minutes.  Guitars with a touch of fuzz distortion dominate the sound, with multi-instrumentalist Patrick Sansone making it a three-guitar attack for most of the record.  The shift in approach creates a sharper and more rocking feel to the album, which is apparent on such songs as “More…” and “Random Name Generator”.  The downside is that Mikael Jorgensen’s keyboards are often lost in the shuffle and minimized for the most part, save for a key role in shaping the closer “Magnetized”.

As a gift to fans, Star Wars is a perfect treat.  Those that longed for the carefree days of the early years circa Being There should be more than satisfied with the album, and those that appreciate the knottier and denser material can appreciate cuts like “You Satellite” that stand out after repeated listens.  Though there were many that took advantage of the generous free download opportunity, most will certainly feel compelled enough to give their thanks by purchasing the album when it goes on sale in the near future.

As for the mystery behind the title and the goofy cover art?  Jeff Tweedy can only respond, “I cry at the joke explained.”

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Best of the Rest: Other Highlights from 2014

Even with our expanded Best-Of list courtesy of The Process, there were still a ton of great albums released last year that were worthy of recognition.  Since we here at Rust Is Just Right are big believers in spreading all good music, we’re going to put a spotlight on some other great records that you may have overlooked from the past year.

Atmosphere – Southsiders.  At this point in their career, you know what you’re going to get with Atmosphere, and for occasional fans that’s perfect.  Slug still comes up with great one-liners, and Ant provides an intriguing, grimy production to back him up.

Biblical – Monsoon Season.  This selection is proof that good things can happen when you show up to see the opening act.  We first caught them when they were touring with Death From Above 1979, and we instantly fell for their version of heavy metal that takes the sensibility of Queens of the Stone Age and Mastodon and expands it out to include several rocking solos.  A prog version of Red Fang?  We’re there.

clipping. – CLPPNG.  These guys do a great job of pushing the boundaries of modern rap, though their experimentalism can get the best of them on occasion.  There are several instances on CLPPNG that the abrasiveness becomes oppressive, but then there are plenty of other times where everything coalesces and it just hits.  Throughout the record, MC Daveed Diggs showcased some of the best technique of the past year, displaying an impressive ear for rhythm and deploying some incisive rhymes, with “Story 2” serving as the most prominent example.

Flying Lotus – You’re Dead!.  This mixture of electronica, jazz, hip-hop, and R&B flows effortlessly from one track to the next and always keeps your attention.  Kendrick Lamar’s appearance on “Never Catch Me” is the highlight, but there is a lot of fun to be had throughout the album.

King Tuff – Black Moon Spell.  A unique mix of glam rock and lo-fi indie, the best moments of this album are some of the most fun rock’n’roll released last year.

Mastodon – Once More ‘Round the Sun.  Mastodon continues to evolve and refine their sound, reining in some of their tendencies towards excess with more concise songs but still adventurous enough to seek out some crazy riffs and solos.  In this way, Once More serves as an efficient composite of their previous albums, but also features some of their catchiest riffs yet.

The Roots – …And then you shoot your cousin.  The Roots are so consistently excellent that they are practically the Spoon of hip-hop.  Their latest concept album was overlooked and underrated, and though it suffers from a diminished presence from Black Thought, the record still works even if it leans on more traditional R&B than rap.

Slow Bird – Chrysalis.  They show a good ear for slow builds and pretty melodies, and  one can hear the foundation for future success.

Tweedy – Sukierae.  Who would have thought that Jeff Tweedy and his son Spencer would make a good team?  This side project has enough of the charm of his main gig in Wilco, while also offering enough of an alternative that makes it a worthwhile effort.

Walter Martin – We’re All Young Together.  This is the third solo album from a former member of The Walkmen released last year, but since the intended audience was for children there were much lower stakes involved.  However, this is one of those “kids albums” that is just as pleasant for adults, with its effortless easy-going charm.  If you play this for the kids, chances are they will grow up with good taste in music.

Also Worthy of Praise

Broken Bells – After the Disco; Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Only Run; D’Angelo and the Vanguard – Black Messiah; Deerhoof – La Isla Bonita; Eels – The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett; Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways; Parquet Courts – Content Nausea; Sun Kil Moon – Benji; Temples – Sun Structures; tUnE-yArDs – Nikki Nack.

All Albums That Were Considered

Here is a list of the albums that we listened to last year, in full.  Most of these were quite good and worthy of repeated listens, but they just could not crack the previous lists.  The good news is there were no absolute stinkers this year, though some were weaker efforts from bands that had excelled in the past.

…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead – IX; Band of Horses – Acoustic at the Ryman; The Brian Jonestown Massacre – Revelation; Circulatory System – Mosaics Within Mosaics; Cold War Kids – Hold My Home; Coldplay – Ghost Stories; Crosses – Crosses; Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots; Dum Dum Girls – Too True; Ghostface Killah – 36 Seasons; J Mascis – Tied To A Star; Jack White – Lazaretto; Karen O – Crush Songs; Kasabian – 48:13; Kevin Drew – Darlings; The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers; Philip Selway – Weatherhouse; Pixies – Indie Cindy; Thee Silver Mt. Zion – Fuck Off We Get Free We Pour Light On Everything; Thurston Moore – The Best Day; Tokyo Police Club – Forcefield; We Are Scientists – TV en Francais; Wye Oak – Shriek.

Review: Tweedy – Sukierae

Sukierae is quite the family affair, and while some may snicker and say that it represents the apotheosis of “dad rock”, it’s a pleasant but affecting listen.  Much of the debut album from “Tweedy” will remind fans of what they love about dad Jeff’s day job with Wilco, but the more personal nature of the material mirrors the stripped-down approach of the record and necessitates a separation from the main act.  It’s an intimate affair, but a welcome one.

Opener “Please Don’t Let Me Be Understood” recalls Telephono-era Spoon with its distorted repetitive riff, but that’s a bit of a misdirection, as Sukierae mainly consists of ballads or otherwise pleasant diversions.  The album is for the most part delicate and subdued, often just Jeff on vocals and guitar with son Spencer accompanying on drums, with the latter careful not to overwhelm the fragile nature of each song.  Acoustic guitar is the dominant sound, with electric guitar leads dancing in and out to provide emphasis and contrast as necessary, with the occasional sprinkle of piano providing hints of color.  Spencer’s drumming ventures occasionally into intriguing new territories for Jeff, as in the King of Limbs-like stuttering beat of “Diamond Light Pt. 1” (which ends with a bit that recalls an earlier period of Radiohead, specifically “The Gloaming”), but for the most part sticks to keeping it in the pocket and augmenting the music with subtle fills on a spare kit.  It’s all a bit “low key”, if you could excuse the pun (note: you are under no obligation to do so).

At seventy-one minutes long, some fans may wonder whether it was necessary for the album to be split into two discs, as Jeff insisted.  While the two discs themselves are not necessarily distinct from one another (though the second disc is a bit more subdued), but each disc does have its own shape; for instance, “I’ll Sing It” and “I’ll Never Know” each bring a sense of finality and work as closers.  One disc doesn’t stand out from the other, but splitting the album into two does benefit the listener by breaking it up into more manageable sizes.  Some may argue that there’s a 12-14 song, 50 minute album hidden in the two discs, but there are not any songs that are asking to be culled from the tracklist.  They may not all be standouts, but there are several quality songs and gorgeous moments spread throughout.

Over the Weekend (Sept. 29 Edition)

Some videos and news as you recover from a weekend overrun by beer advertisements

Tweedy released the Nick Offerman-directed video for “Low Key” last week, and it should lift your spirits up as you kick off your week because it’s hilarious and filled with a lot of great cameos.  See how many you can spot, and be sure to watch until the end when the “twist” of who is actually in charge of the record industry is revealed.

I’ve read that this year is the “Year of the Booty”, but I think that’s bullshit, because every year is the “Year of the Booty”.  Even so, I was not expecting to see quite this amount of posterior-shaking in a Mastodon video, until I remembered that they were from Atlanta.  Here’s their new video, “The Motherload”, which should not be watched at your place of employment.

“Twice as Hard” seems an odd choice for a follow-up single to “All the Rage Back Home”, but it inspired Paul Banks to film this boxing-focused video for the El Pintor closer.  The track has grown on me with repeated listens, and in my mind seems to be an improvement over the similar closer “The Lighthouse”.

Not only has Death From Above 1979 returned with a brilliant second album, but they are also the subject of a documentary about their rise and years apart.  The trailer definitely has me pumped.

Catching Up On The Week (Sept. 26 Edition)

A few #longreads for your weekend as hipsterdom reaches its apex with a Pabst-sponsored music festival in Portland, Oregon…

One of the bands appearing at the Project Pabst festival this weekend is hometown heavy metal act Red Fang.  They may be local, but they also have a worldwide reach, as evidenced by a recent interview that an Indian metal publication conducted with guitarist Bryan Giles.

Portland's most identifiable landmark is a sign with its name.

Portland’s most identifiable landmark is a sign with its name.

Pitchfork has an extensive interview with Adam Granduciel of The War on Drugs, discussing the creation of his group’s brilliant new album Lost in the Dream and all the personal struggles he endured.  Be sure to check out also this performance that the band did for The Current, featuring a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue” (which is a perfect fit for the band).

Jeff Tweedy talks with The Quietus on the making of Sukierae with his son Spencer, discussing musical experimentation and lyrical processes among other topics.  And because I missed it when it first was published, I’m linking to another recent interview from The Quietus, this time with Karen O.

Joey Santiago talks about the legacy of the Pixies with Diffuser, and it’s always worth hearing from the legendary guitarist.

And because it’s not enough that people discuss the twentieth anniversary of Dookie, Consequence of Sound has a roundtable examining the impact of American Idiot ten years later.  I’m just glad someone stood up for Warning, which I feel is an underrated Green Day album.

And finally, some new music: after a week of dropping various hints, Thom Yorke announced the release of his second solo album, Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, which is now available for purchase on BitTorrent.  It’ll definitely be making my weekend playlist.

Over the Weekend (Sept. 22 Edition)

Kicking off the official beginning of fall (even if it begins a day later this year) with some new music and videos…

Jeff Tweedy is set to release the album (Sukierae) he recorded with his son Spencer tomorrow, and the duo stopped by the NPR offices to perform as a part of their “Tiny Desk Concerts” series.

The Antlers have another gorgeous, dreamy video from Familiars, this time for the song “Refuge”.  Not much actually happens, but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying all the pretty colors.

If you’re in the mood for a little more action in your music videos, and don’t mind handling a bit of the bizarre, then check out the video for the Suicide-inspired track “Grid” by Perfume Genius, whose new album Too Bright is also set to come out tomorrow.

King Tuff’s new album “Black Moon Spell” is also set to be released on the 23rd, and if you’re quick you can listen to a stream of the glam-rock album on NPR right now.  The title track is the best song that T. Rex never released, if you ask me.

Kele Okereke from Bloc Party will be releasing his second solo album on October 13, and today released the second single from Trick.  Listen to “Coasting” here.

On Friday we linked to Pitchfork’s extensive interview with Richard D. James, but we we wanted to make sure that you saw this video that was linked to in the article of an early performance of “Aisatsana”, featuring a piano swung across the stage as if it were a pendulum.  That should be enough of a signal for you to watch:

And finally, Carl Newman and Neko Case from the New Pornographers talked to NPR about what it takes to write a good pop song, and the piece includes video of their performance at the Brill Building which gave their new album its name.  Unfortunately, the piece also didn’t include Neko’s cover of the Squidbillies theme song, but we got you covered.