Posts Tagged ‘Jeff Tweedy’

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When Americana pioneers Uncle Tupelo released their major-label debut, “Anodyne” on October 5th, 1993, it should have been the beginning of something big. They were following up their left-turn acoustic record, March 16-20, 1992, recorded with R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, with their best record yet

Recorded live in the studio amid mounting tension between singer / songwriters Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy, “Anodyne” proved to be Uncle Tupelo’s last and finest album. These final sessions find Farrar and Tweedy crafting a seamless mesh of country, folk and rock that both encompasses and exceeds the range of previous albums.

Anodyne smoothed the jarring, start-stop rhythms of the band’s first two records, No Depression and Still Feel Gone, into a straight-ahead steamroll behind new drummer Ken Coomer. Farrar’s barbed guitar riffs sear on “Chickamauga,” where he compares a crumbling relationship to a Civil War bloodbath. Quieter moments such as the title track flex the strength of new multi-instrumentalist Max Johnston, who played dobro, banjo and fiddle, and former guitar tech John Stirratt, who held down bass when Tweedy switched to guitar.

With the straight-up country of Acuff-rose (a tribute to the famed songwriting duo), and the folky New Madrid, Tupelo displays the traditional leanings found on March 16-20, 1992, while both the bass-heavy The Long Cut and the barnstorming Chickamauga broaden the punk-tinged sound of No Depression and Still Feel Gone. While Anodyne also features a raucous collaboration with the late Doug Sahm on Give Back the Key to My Heart, its most transcendent moments are the world-weary Slate and the sublime title track, one of the most beautifully bittersweet songs penned since Neil Young’s Helpless. Although anodyne proved to be the end of the line for Uncle Tupelo, it opened up more expansive roads for Farrar and Tweedy,

Eventually, the friction between lifelong friends Farrar and Tweedy brought down the band at their biggest moment. Tweedy rushed the remaining members of Uncle Tupelo into the studio to record Wilco’s 1995 debut A.M., while Farrar took the long cut and found success with the hit single “Drown” on Son Volt’s Trace a year later.

Farrar has continued to wrestle with obscure, early country and folk music and his textured guitar wranglings over eight solid albums. Wilco has evolved from a Tupelo-twin to an engine of reinvention, from the deconstructionist country-rock of 1996’s Being There to the shimmering heartbreak of 1999’s Summerteeth and 2001’s experimental Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

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There’s nothing cheerful about Wilco’s weary new release, “Ode to Joy”, but Jeff Tweedy’s sullen, even sardonic, songs on the band’s 11th studio album are no less appreciable for their dark matter. The decaying guitar tones, sorrowful flourishes, and incessant stomp of “Bright Leaves” sets the tone from the outset, as Tweedy sings, “I never change/You never change.” Some songs here are personal (“Hold Me Anyway”), others political (“Citizens”), but Wilco accompanies them all the same with their incredible chemistry and a restrained instrumentation that keeps Tweedy’s questions front and center. “I blow my horn for the whole band,” he sings.

“Ode to Joy” is Wilco’s eleventh studio album, and it seems informed by maturity, which is less a newfound dimension than a deepening of the band’s growth over the past decade. Jeff Tweedy’s relative calm in the face of turmoil is the defining force underlying the record, and it’s clear from the outset: his vocals on opener “Bright Leaves” sound like they were recorded as the rest of the room was napping. The song appears to address his marriage; that topic would have been mined for something caustic and even sinister on, say, Summerteeth, but here it is marveled at for its consistency and durability, warts and all. This isn’t head-in-the-sand naiveté, but rather a calculated effort to shun the grim perspectives Wilco may once have embraced.

Everyone’s perennial alt-rock favorites Wilco just want to feel joyful. Is that so much to ask? In 2019’s dire, dreary political climate, maybe it is. Maybe we should risk our individual happinesses to better our community; maybe there’s a way to materialize that joy into political action. That’s the central tension in the band’s song, “Love Is Everywhere (Beware),” It’s the lead single from their newly announced 11th album, “Ode to Joy”.

Ode to Joy – Wilco’s 11th studio album – released October. 4th , 2019 via dBpm Records. The album features 11 new songs written and produced by Jeff Tweedy and recorded by Wilco at The Loft (Chicago, IL) in January 2019. “Love is Everywhere (Beware)” is the first single from the album release.

Wilco

Ode To Joy. Featuring 11 new songs written and produced by Tweedy and recorded by Wilco at The Loft (Chicago, IL) in January 2019, Tweedy and Glenn Kotche were the launching pad from which most of the songs on Ode To Joy materialized – Kotche’s percussion propels the music forward while Tweedy’s measured words flesh out the cleared paths. As a result, the album is comprised of “really big, big folk songs, these monolithic, brutal structures that these delicate feelings are hung on,” notes Tweedy. Across the entire album, drums pound and plod with a steady one – two pulse, meant to mimic the movement of marching – a powerful act utilized on both sides of the authoritarian wall. There’s also a sense of comfort that comes with the rhythmic marching sound.

The album largely does away with conventional rock and folk song structures; instead, it embraces spare, impressionistic arrangements—often led by booming, elemental percussion—to create one of the moodiest and most haunting records in Wilco’s catalog, more movingly understated than the experimental Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and darker than the uptempo Americana of Sky Blue Sky“For this record, we tried to intuit rock music pretending we hadn’t heard any…we’d tell each other what we wanted to hear,” Tweedy says. And while he is quick to acknowledge that the band didn’t exactly “reinvent rock music,” it does sound, to a certain degree, like they reinvented Wilco. As Ode to Joy makes clear, from the tense and restrained opening track “Bright Leaves”—which hangs glimmering sonic textures on thumping drums like ornaments on a Christmas tree—all the way through “An Empty Corner,” the mysterious heart-wrenching waltz that closes the album, Wilco have built nothing less than a world unto itself;

“Ode to Joy” Wilco’s 11th studio album – will be released October. 4th, 2019 via dBpm Records. The album features 11 new songs written and produced by Jeff Tweedy and recorded by Wilco at The Loft (Chicago, IL) in January 2019. “Everyone Hides” is the second single from the forthcoming release.

Wilco - Ode To Joy

For a band that’s typically so meticulous and exacting in their sound and process, Wilco’s 2016 album Schmilco seemed like a rushed and pieced-together work that followed its predecessor, Star Wars, a little more than a year later. The strain was evident.

The group went on a break, while leader Jeff Tweedy released three solo albums in succession, with the last, Warmer, arriving less than six months before Wilco return for their 11th LP, Ode to Joy.

A lot has happened in the relatively short three years between Wilco albums and, obviously, not all of them on the personal front. It’s been a rough period for a lot of people; anger, disillusionment and hopelessness seem to be at the core of a lot of lives these days. So, it’s no small thing that the record is called Ode to Joy. The somewhat winking title notwithstanding, there’s light in the darkness of these songs. You just have to dig a little to find it.

That’s a lot to ask, even from Wilco’s most devoted fans. Especially when the opening “Bright Leaves” barely works up a melody to lift spirits. But then the next two songs – “Before Us” and “One and a Half Stars” – proceed at a similar pace, and Ode to Joy begins to find strange comfort in its melancholy. “Now, when something’s dead, we try to kill it again,” Tweedy sings on “Before Us,” striking a sense of nostalgia for a lost past that eventually settles for resigned coziness.
The album is like that, creeping up on you with unexpected pokes you’re not really expecting to find in the sad-sack nature of many of the songs. By the time “Love Is Everywhere (Beware)” rolls along during the last third of the LP, Ode to Joy sounds like the most organic Wilco album since 2004’s A Ghost Is Born.

At times, the moody atmospherics underlining the songs amount to no more than mere hums; other times they become another instrument, pushing the tracks along. These sonic textures add haunting rumbles, fleeting noise bursts and the occasional melodic upswing.

But turmoil is always around the corner. The album’s opening lines – “I don’t like the way you’re treating me” – signal a theme that shows up throughout the album, even at its most uplifting moments. But there’s reserved hope, a tentative grasping for purpose in humanity, even when the chorus of a song called “Citizens” goes “White lies, white lies” and another one slyly titled “We Were Lucky” plays at a funeral-march pace.

Ode to Joy, like the best Wilco albums, can be oblique. That’s always been a draw, and it’s no less so here. The time away from each other has sharpened some of their ties. Tweedy is still in charge, but Nels Cline’s guitar cuts through the occasional clutter to expose the soul that’s not always surface evident. And the band’s focused interplay on standouts like “Everyone Hides” takes on a life-force of its own, even if the overall result seems a little slight compared to past masterworks like Being There and Summerteeth.

As with the band’s accidental post-9/11 meditation and career high-point Yankee Hotel Foxtrot – which was supposed to be released earlier in 2001 but didn’t come out until 2002 – Ode to Joy sounds like a reflection of the times. Art can’t help but to react, but maybe reading too much into the album shifts its intent and position.

Then again, maybe not. When Tweedy declares, “I’m freaking the fuck out / I’ll try to do my best, I guess” on “Hold Me Anyway,” it comes off like a summation of both the record and 2019. This isn’t a record to change the world or even Wilco’s place in it, like Yankee Hotel Foxtrot did. But in trying to make sense of it, Ode to Joy finds a sort of strength. And we’ll take what we can get these days.

Wilco, photo by <a href="https://www.annabelmehran.com/">Annabel Mehran</a>

Wilco have announced their 11th studio album. It’s called “Ode to Joy” and it arrives October 4th via their own dBpm Records. In addition to the album announcement, Jeff Tweedy and co. have shared a new song.

Listen to lead single “Love Is Everywhere (Beware)” below,

Jeff Tweedy said of a new song in a statement:
There MUST be more love than hate. Right?! I’m not always positive we can be so sure. In any case, I’m starting to feel like being confident in that equation isn’t always the best motivation for me to be my best self—it can kind of let me off the hook a little bit when I think I should be striving to contribute more love outside of my comfortable sphere of family and friends.

So… I guess the song is sort of a warning to myself that YES, Love Is Everywhere, but also Beware! I can’t let that feeling absolve me of my duty to create more.

Wilco are heading out on tour this year. Ode to Joy marks the first Wilco album since 2016’s Schmilco. Tweedy’s first album of original solo songs, Warm, was released at the tail end of 2018. A follow-up companion album, Warmer, was also released earlier this year for Record Store Day.

As a founding member and leader of the American rock band Wilco, and before that the co-founder of the alt-country band Uncle Tupelo, Chicago-based Jeff Tweedy is one of contemporary American music’s most accomplished songwriters, musicians and performers. His memoir, LET’S GO (SO WE CAN GET BACK): A Memoir of Recording and Discording with Wilco, Etc., was released last year.

Through his pioneering work in the legendary country-punk band, Uncle Tupelo, to his enduring legacy as the creative force behind the unclassifiable sound of Wilco, Jeff Tweedy has weaved his way between the underground and the mainstream – and back again. Funny, disarming, and deeply honest, his memoir casts light on his unique creative process and the stories that shaped his life and career, from a childhood spent in Illinois to the release of the bands album “No Depression” in the early 90’s – which set the blueprint for alt-country – and later working with Mavis Staples and, posthumously, Woody Guthrie. (Rough Trade BOOKS OF THE YEAR)

Jeff Tweedy and son Spencer, 

The book delves deeper into the creative development of one of the greatest American songwriters on his generation than any interview or biography I’ve read about Jeff Tweedy. The guy is honest, dishonest, candid, flippant, coherent, rambling, sometimes all on the same page.

Jeff Tweedy – One Wing – Woods Stage

Jeff opens up about the development of his writing style, making the understanding of the Wilco albums greater than any journalist review ever could. In fact the only flaw I would throw at this book is that it is almost too revealing about the personal lows Jeff has experienced in the troubled phases of the Wilco era. I’m sure it will hardly appeal to anyone unfamiliar with Tweedy’s output, which is sad as Jeff’s contribution to recorded music  in general is as vital as anyone else I’ve ever heard.

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“Warmer”, the companion LP is to be released six months after Jeff Tweedy acclaimed 2018 solo album “Warm”, will be released exclusively on vinyl for Record Store Day 2019. There are ten previously unavailable studio recordings written and recorded during the same sessions. The “sister albums”….“Warmer came right behind Warm – recorded in the same burst, motivated by the same impetus, overflowing with the same consoling ethos”.

Ahead of the album’s April 13th arrival, Tweedy has shared the Warmer track “Family Ghost,” a “reflection on the difficulty of understanding and eliminating the types of casual and systemic racism pervasive in Jeff’s southern Illinois upbringing,” a press release for the album stated.

The 10-song collection was recorded during the same studio sessions at Chicago’s the Loft Studio that resulted in Tweedy’s 2018 album. Warmer was “recorded in the same burst, motivated by the same impetus, overflowing with the same consoling ethos,” author George Saunders, who penned Warm‘s liner notes, said of the “sister album.

Tweedy has said of Warmer in a statement, “At some point I separated the songs from the Warm/Warmer session into two records with individual character, but still tried to keep the overall tone and texture of the combined session consistent. In a lot of ways these two records could have been released as a double LP. Warmer means as much to me as Warm and might just as easily have been released as the first record of the pair.”

WARMER includes ten previously unavailable studio recordings written and recorded at The Loft in Chicago

Wilco - Summerteeth

Summerteeth, released 20 years ago this week, is Wilco’s contribution to a common trope in pop music history: The prettiest songs are often about the ugliest subjects. Summerteeth exists as part of that lineage. It’s the most gorgeously ornate album Wilco ever made, and also the most disturbing.

Tweedy wrote the songs that became Summerteeth at what should have been the happiest time in his life. Rather than sabotaging his music career, the breakup of Uncle Tupelo — his massively influential country-punk partnership with childhood friend Jay Farrar had liberated him to pursue a vision entirely his own. He’d married his longtime girlfriend, Sue Miller, the owner of Chicago music venue Lounge Ax, and together they were raising a young son. The 1996 double-LP Being There had established Wilco as arguably the most talented and ambitious band in alt-country and helped Tweedy escape his reputation as Farrar’s plucky sidekick.

“I dreamed about killing you again last night, and it felt alright to me.” That’s a hell of a way to begin a song, and a hellish way. Just when the sleepy acoustic guitar chords out front of “Via Chicago” have lulled you into a stupor, Jeff Tweedy arrives to announce his shrugging approval toward the prospect of murdering someone he loves.

Eventually the Wilco frontman moves on to increasingly abstract imagery, from “I painted my name on the back of a leaf/ And I watched it float away” to “And crawling is screw faster lash/ I blow it with kisses.” The song builds from those initial chords into a vast soundscape that encapsulates Wilco at their best — that unparalleled ability to pile layers of beauty onto a simple folk song and then artfully rip it to shreds. At climactic moments, Tweedy launches into a slipshod guitar melody like Stephen Malkmus soloing over a disintegrating memory. Following it through to the finish is thrilling, but to get there you have to endure a whole verse of bloody, explosive details. It’s no wonder Tweedy writes in his new memoir Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back) that the album containing “Via Chicago” is “the record that’s hardest for my wife to listen to.”

Yet he writes, “I was probably as unhappy as I’d ever been. I was insecure, homesick, and drug-addled.” Even worse, “I had more love in my life that I’d ever had, and I was still lonely.” Furthermore, Tweedy was frustrated that Wilco had been pigeonholed as an alt-country band, a perception reinforced by Mermaid Avenue, a collaborative album with Billy Bragg setting music to unused Woody Guthrie lyrics. Being There had blown open the possibilities of what Wilco could be, but most of the listening public still saw the band a certain way. “People assumed we had this sort of identifiable, philistine range of influences,” Tweedy wrote, “and we, in our heads, knew that wasn’t the case.”

To upend those expectations, Wilco made their idea of a bubblegum record. The rootsy pop-rockers and ballads that populated 1994 debut A.M. were still in the mix, as were the formal and stylistic experiments that made Being There such a leap in terms of breadth and quality. But now Tweedy and his sideman Jay Bennett were building these songs into small-scale symphonies: Beach Boys harmonies spilling into every chorus, waves of gorgeous orchestration surging in and out of the frame. By this point they were more chamber-pop than cowpunk or whatever term the readership of No Depression favored that week.

It was a different record born from a different process. In many ways Summerteeth was a dry run for Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and its accompanying saga, be it Tweedy’s embrace of abstract, impressionistic lyrics, the introduction of extensive studio tinkering to tear apart the songs, or tearing apart of the band that came along with it. Drummer Ken Coomer and bassist John Stirratt were largely excluded from the sessions while Tweedy and Bennett popped pills and piled on the overdubs. As Coomer complained to Greg Kot in his Wilco biography Learning How To Die, “There wasn’t really a band, just two guys losing their minds in the studio.”

It’s hard to dispute the results Summerteeth continued a run of masterpieces that began with Being There and continued well into the next decade — but Reprise Records did anyway. That’s another way the album presaged Yankee Hotel Foxtrot: The label asked Wilco to go back and record more accessible music to promote to radio. In this case the band played along, leading to a rare instance of label meddling that worked out really well. The glorious guitar-pop onslaught “Can’t Stand It” is a phenomenal album opener and a frankly underrated entry in the Wilco canon. On the other hand, although you can see why the label didn’t want Summerteeth to begin with the drowsy, depressive, dysfunctional “She’s A Jar,” it’s tough to understand why they couldn’t find a single anywhere else on the tracklist especially when they had one readily available just one track beyond “She’s A Jar.”

On one hand, there’s nothing quite like “A Shot In The Arm” in Wilco’s discography. On the other hand, it’s a great case study for what Wilco were doing on Summerteeth: one of the most beautiful and exhilarating pop songs they’ve ever recorded, and also one of the bleakest. Bennett’s cascading piano ripples, a rock-steady Coomer backbeat, and a Stirratt bass line propel it breathlessly forward while an arsenal of squealing synths collide in the sky like fireworks. All the while, Tweedy alludes to strained relations with his wife and seemingly considers whether a heroin habit might jolt him out of his doldrums. It begins and ends in flicker of synthesizers.

He hints at those tensions again on “Pieholden Suite,” a lush multi-part sequence that really earns that “suite” designation: “There’s a whisper I would like to breathe into your ear, but I’m too scared to get that close to you right now.” And again on “We’re Just Friends,”, If love’s so easy, why’s it hard?” And again on the heartbreaking “How To Fight Loneliness,” a lounge-ready acoustic slow-drift that concludes the best strategy for battling alienation is “just smile all the time.” Punchy rock tracks “I’m Always In Love,” “Nothing’severgonnastandinmyway (Again),” and “ELT” course with stress and frustration beneath their cheery veneers. “Can’t Stand It” toggles between strutting Stones-lite verses with a carefree party vibe and a euphoric chorus smothered in keyboards and church bells, yet Tweedy spends the song lashing out at the randomness of both God’s love and his own. Yet again, he evokes a personal life that’s falling apart: “You know it’s all beginning to feel like it’s ending.”

Not everything on the album is so dark. Summerteeth concludes with a stretch of music that feels like a redemption arc. There’s real tenderness in the lullaby “My Darling” and the lazy back porch reverie “When You Wake Up Feeling Old.” The title track finds some kind of resolution as it breezes from snappy twang to sighing rhapsody, though even the apparent reconciliation is oblique enough to keep listeners guessing. And on gentle closing track “In A Future Age,” Tweedy buys into the possibility of change, bookending his album-opening cries that “Your prayers will never be answered again!” with a call to “turn our prayers to outrageous dares.” Yet despite things generally looking up at the end, the album remains a document of Tweedy at one of his lowest moments.

He writes in his memoir that the darkness explored on Summerteeth, while very real, was not autobiographical in the strictest sense. He discusses writing “Via Chicago” and other songs from the era in a fragmented style he compares to mosaic and collage. “When I write in this mode, I write for myself first, pretending that the audience isn’t even there, and will never be there,” he explains. “I can get things off of my chest, I can invent versions of myself that are better than I believe I am … or worse, are even downright awful and murderous. I can expose shadow selves that I believe I should keep my eye on. I can admit things about myself without really having to take ownership of anything.”

In other words, when “She’s A Jar” reaches its twist ending and Tweedy declares, “She begs me not to hit her,” he’s not actually confessing to domestic violence. He’s singing about a fictionalized version of himself, or maybe as a different character entirely, as a way to air out the more disquieting corners of his psyche. Which is not to say it’s wrong to be repulsed by these images or to wish that Tweedy, as the album’s ostensible protagonist, had not verbalized them.

Summerteeth occupies a weird space in Wilco’s history. It stands alone among their output, a product of personal crises and creative friction that would have ended the band if they’d carried on forever. There are people who’ll (wrongly, but earnestly) tell you that actually, this is the best album Wilco ever made. Others see it as the beginning of the end of the band they once loved, a rough draft for future glories. Whatever you make of Summerteeth, I can attest from experience that the album helped Wilco to become for a generation of listeners what the Clash and the Minutemen had been for Tweedy.

Loose Fur - credit: Stefano Giovannini

Jeff never disappoints. Totally dig everything he’s done. This is no different. Great record.  The “supergroup” featuring Jim O’Rourke, Glenn Kotche, and Jeff Tweedy, who all together make Loose Fur ! If you were ever curious, their debut, self-titled record leaves no doubt – these dudes can really fuckin’ play!

Recorded during downtime on “Foxtrot” and refined in the two years since, however, this experiment mostly serves to reinforce what we’re already well aware of: Jeff Tweedy’s formidable strength as a songwriter, the pervasive nuance of O’Rourke’s by-now trademark production, and Glenn Kotche’s unconventional, sometimes overly ambitious approach to percussion.

Oddly, the most predictable elements of Loose Fur are its most “arty” and “experimental”– songs that either follow the laws of entropy and dissolve in a rising swell of dissonance (Like the opener “Laminated Cat”) or defy them entirely, allowing melodies to emerge gradually from the sonic clutter (“So Long”). Despite its relative brevity (six cuts over forty minutes), Loose Fur establishes a familiar pattern early on, and it’s actually the more conventional music– exhibiting Tweedy and O’Rourke’s common soft spot for classic rock– that leaves a more lasting impression.

“Laminated Cat” will be instantly recognizable to Wilco archivists as a more sedate reading of the Foxtrot castoff “Not for the Season”. In its original incarnation the song was a somewhat generic rocker drawn by loops of distorted guitar and gently evocative laptopery into an improbable seven-minute jam. Tweedy’s lyrics are mostly incidental to the tidal pull of the rhythm and O’Rourke’s otherworldly fuzz– a stoner’s recognition of time passing exponentially faster, years spent accumulating piles of books “not worth reading.” Kotche’s percolating thumps grow progressively (and predictably) louder as the tune ambles self-consciously towards the imploding plastic inevitable.

Loose Fur released Domino Recording

Wilco may have set a high water mark for experimental Americana with 2002’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and 2004’s A Ghost is Born, but frontman Jeff Tweedy has spent the intervening years slowly inching away from the abstract and obtuse elements of those LPs, in favor of more direct and explicit songwriting. Warm, his first proper album under his own name, marks the exceptional culmination of that approach. Written in the wake of his father’s passing, and as Tweedy enters his 50s, these deeply intimate and skeletal songs consider what it means to remain in the present, what it means to be a link in a family chain, and what it means to appreciate the joys of life even as darkness threatens to swallow us whole.

Rarely has Tweedy conveyed so much emotion with such sparse arrangements. On standout track “How Hard It is for a Desert to Die,” each vivid note of his acoustic guitar carries remarkable emotional heft. On opening track “Bombs Above,” he recounts his battle with opioid addiction in a near-whisper—“I’m taking a moment to apologize,” he sings—backed by knotted guitars and his elder son, Spencer, gently thumping the drums. Even “Let’s Go Rain,” a major-key jangle and the album’s most accessible track, utilizes its sunny melody as a foil for an allegory of total destruction, and the deception makes it all the more chilling.

On “War on War,” from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Tweedy proclaimed, with then-typical abstraction, that “You have to learn how to die / If you want to want to be alive.” Throughout Warm, he conveys his gratitude for that life with a clarity and solemnity that, finally, brings that sentiment into sharp focus. “I don’t believe in heaven,” he sings on the album’s title track. For Tweedy, heaven, and hell, are right here on earth.

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