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Saturday, July 31, 2004
Thursday, July 29, 2004
In your ear
The Daily Yomiuri
reviews by Kevin Wood
A Ghost Is Born
Warner Japan, 2,520 yen
Singer-songwriter-guitarist Jeff Tweedy and Wilco seem to have become the poster children for artistic integrity in rock since their 2002 album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Deemed unreleaseable by Warner's Reprise Records, the quirky mix of post alt-country and pop rock accented with odd bits of electronica became a major critical success, eventually selling 400,000 copies for Warner's Nonesuch label.
A Ghost is Born is another step down the same path to glory as Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, with more emphasis on the natural interplay of instruments within the band and less on overdubbed electronic frills. Wilco has produced an excellent disc destined for inclusion on a lot of "best of" lists.
Lyrically, the overall theme of the album seems to be self-perception and the search for identity: "His goal in life was to be an echo" sings Tweedy in the Beatles-esque "Hummingbird," "Exactly what do you want me to be?" he asks in the poppy "Handshake Drugs," and explains on a later, far punkier track "I'm a wheel, I will turn on you."
Musically, the album ranges from the delicate folk of "Muzzle of Bees" and "Wishful Thinking" to the up-tempo piano-driven retro-soul of "Theologians," to the 15 minutes of feedback, loops and electronic psychedelia that makes the otherwise straightforward "Less Than You Think" sound like an almost unlistenable outtake from Pink Floyd's Saucerful of Secrets. Wilco's rock credentials are nailed down by songs such as "Hell is Chrome" that builds from a quiet solo piano to a crescendo of bristling distorted guitar feedback that would do Neil Young and Crazy Horse proud.
Tweedy has hit his stride as a singer, moving from earnest innocent to arch sophisticate; angry, snarling sneer to plaintive, lonesome lament with apparent ease. As a songwriter, Tweedy has cast aside the conventional structure of repeating verses and choruses to forge ahead with his own outside-the-box implied narratives and fragmentary poetry.
While Tweedy is considered the driving force behind Wilco, credit for the overall sound of A Ghost Is Born must also go to producer Jim O'Rourke for coordinating the subtle bass work of John Stirratt and brilliant drumming of Glenn Kotche with Mikael Jorgensen's versatile piano and evocative touches of hammer dulcimer, viola and organ.
With the exception of the aforementioned sonic experiment that follows "Less Than You Think," Wilco has produced an album of consistent excellence, spirit and quality.
Warner Japan, 2,520 yen
Jam band favorites Phish decided in May to call it quits once and for all, picking an Aug. 15 festival show in Coventry, Vt., as their last gig.
The band's final studio album, Undermind, shows them quitting while they are ahead, leaving behind their best studio album since 1996's Billy Breathes.
The usual criticisms of Phish's studio efforts--weak songwriting, lackluster vocals, and too much emphasis on overlong instrumental solos--just won't wash here. From the catchy title track to the jangly pop of "The Connection" to the bouncy goofiness of "Access Me," Undermind is a very radio-friendly album that might even propel the band out of its tie-dyed ghetto.
Phish wear their musical influences on their collective sleeve here, with a Revolver-era Beatles sound permeating the entire disc, and regular stylistic nods to the Beach Boys and the Grateful Dead. The soulful "Army of One" sounds like a long-lost hit by the Band.
Despite standing on the shoulders of these rock giants, Phish still manage to create a sound all their own. Undermind makes a fine capstone to a monumental career. Phish are going out in style.
Sunday, July 25, 2004
Like there was ever a doubt...
Bush wins big at Stupidity Awards
MONTREAL — The November elections may still be ahead of him but U.S. President George W. Bush came out a big winner yesterday — at the World Stupidity Awards.
Bush was a dominating presence at the second edition of the awards presented at the Just for Laughs comedy festival.
Host Lewis Black, whose biting satire is a highlight of TV's The Daily Show, took pride in the recognition the United States received at the awards, saying: "we are the gold standard."