"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Friday, June 08, 2007

In yer ear

By Kevin Wood Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer


Sky Blue Sky

Warner Music, 2,680 yen

After soaring high with the more experimental Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost is Born, Wilco return to Earth with Sky Blue Sky.

The album harkens back to their earlier alt-country roots. Despite major personnel changes, the Wilco of Sky Blue Sky sounds a lot more like the band that recorded the Woody Guthrie tribute Mermaid Avenue than the group responsible for the abstract excesses of Ghost.

At times, Sky Blue Sky sounds like the best '70s country-folk-rock album never made, with twangy hints of the Grateful Dead ("What Light"), the Flying Burrito Brothers, and God forgive them, even the Eagles. Mix that with a stiff dose of introspective, moody melodicism by songwriter and frontman Jeff Tweedy, punctuate with some guitar heroics by new member Nels Cline and the result is a largely understated song cycle about the uncertainties of love.

The gentle, tentative nature of the opening song "Either Way" with its pretty, breezy guitar solo sets the thematic tone: "Maybe the sun will shine today/The clouds will blow away/Maybe I won't feel so afraid."

Several songs, notably "I Hate It Here," and "Shake It Off" seem rooted in a fear of, or a reaction to losing love, while others such as "Walken" and "On and On and On" are more straightforward love songs, although they tend to dwell more on reassuring a lover than seduction or celebration. Others, like the title track and "Leave Me (Like You Found Me)" seem to be about surviving emotional chaos.

Musically, Tweedy's neurotic energy and famously jangled nerves come through in the arrangements. "You Are My Face" starts off quiet until a sudden burst of dissonant roaring guitar sends the song off in a much more intense, melodramatic direction. "Side With The Seeds" is a sonic standout, with the band showing off their chops. The acoustic-guitar folkiness and sunny harmonies of aforementioned "What Light" are balanced by the plaintive, lonesome plea "Please don't cry/We're designed to die" of "On and On and On."

While Sky Blue Sky may lack the alternative edginess of Yankee and Ghost, it also has a warmth the former lacks and the latter only hints at. Wilco has come full circle back to the classic rock elements Tweedy's early work with Uncle Tupelo was both a reaction to and a reflection of--and a welcome homecoming it is.


Roses and Clover

Universal/Brushfire 2,381 yen

The former Animal Liberation Orchestra returns with a follow-up to 2006's Fly Between Walls. The California-based quartet have tightened up their jam band-based sound, while still leaving lots of room in their songs for extended keyboard and guitar interplay.

The band's sound also seems to have coalesced into a more cohesive style. While their broad range of influences--funk, '70s rock, soul, jazz, blues and folk--is still evident, they no longer seem to change genres from song to song. Where ALO once went from Motown Funksters on one track to Nashville Country Rockers on the next, the group seems to be on a more even musical keel on Roses and Clover, opting to blend styles within songs rather than jumping from one genre to the next.

One thing that hasn't changed is the infectious, sunny, groove-oriented nature of their sound. Roses and Clover is a danceable romp with a rootsy feel and solid musicianship.

(From the June 9 edition of The Daily Yomiuri)


David said...

"...the Wilco of Sky Blue Sky sounds a lot more like the band that recorded the Woody Guthrie tribute Mermaid Avenue..."

That is great news for this Wilco fan.

the rev. said...

Yeah, the new one is plenty moody and angsty and all that, but they have dropped the random arty computer noises that were all over Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. It isn't quite as folky as Mermaid Avenue, but its a step back in that direction.