Posts Tagged ‘The Loft’

During the enforced idleness of the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic, many people hatched ambitious plans: reading unreadable books, mastering a language, baking virtuous sourdough. For Jeff Tweedy, the global crisis truncated a Wilco tour, and he found himself at home with his family. His son Spencer lives at home anyway, and his other son, Sammy, returned from New York to do remote schooling.

Tweedy had tuned in to the discussion about creativity during times of quarantine, and had learned (the arguable fact) that Shakespeare wrote King Lear while sheltering from the plague. What to do? Well, in times of stress, as in all times, Tweedy’s habit is to visit his Chicago studio, The Loft. There, he planned to write a country album named after Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy, producing a song a day.

“Love Is The King” is not that record. Tantalisingly, Tweedy suggests that a number of straightforward country-style songs were recorded before his own instincts started to kick in. True, if Shakespeare had gone countrypolitan, he might have taken his sense of jeopardy, his troubled masculinity, his interest in tempests as an emotional metaphor and created something similar. “Ripeness is all,” says Edgar in King Lear. “Oh, tomatoes right off the vine,” croons Tweedy in “Guess Again”, “we used to eat them like that all the time.”

This album marries Tweedy’s mature emotional outlook (love is all, and is a dream worth dreaming) to the workaday manners of Uncle Tupelo or the Woody Guthrie project, Mermaid Avenue. There’s a home video lurking on YouTube of Tweedy sitting on his sofa, strumming his way through Talking Heads’ “Heaven”. The sound of Love Is The King is what you’d expect from the bar band in that song: briskly functional, with an enduring tension between Tweedy’s balmy vocals and the electric guitar, which arrives in these songs like a deluge.

“I always think that the electric guitar player, who’s me, is the guy who’s having the toughest time dealing with everything,” Tweedy tells says. “He’s a little bit frayed. He showed up for a different type of session, his nerves are getting the better of him.”

Occasionally, broader influences seep through. The playful “Gwendolyn” has the wayward electricity of the Faces, and a heroine who sounds the sort of paramour the young Rod Stewart might have conquered and regretted. For Tweedy it acknowledges his habit of finding himself several steps behind a woman, emotionally. The title track has a languid rhythm that is almost obliterated by the guitar, and a lyric that marries the Lear-like outlook of the narrator (“At the edge/Of as bad as it gets”), to flashes of current affairs; tanks in the streets and violence.

That mood spills into “Opaline”, a honky-tonk lament that playfully blurs images of death, paranoia and dread. The inspiration for the song is more prosaic. The lyric is addressed to a golden orb-weaver spider that lived in Tweedy’s backyard through spring and summer before abruptly disappearing, presumed dead. The song’s most troubling image, of a hearse stuck at a toll gate, actually happened. Tweedy saw the funeral car, parked in its own metaphor, when escaping Chicago via the skyway to Michigan. “I kept looking in my rear-view mirror, thinking, ‘Holy shit, that’s one of the worst things I can think of,’” he says with a laugh. “A guy driving a hearse with no change for a toll.”

On paper, it sounds tormented. In reality, it doesn’t. As a singer, Tweedy patrols the trunk road between regret and resilience. Straight-legged sincerity, when he chooses to use it, is a good look: see the thankful love song “Even I Can See”Tweedy is probably more instinctively comfortable undermining himself, as on the countrified “Natural Disaster”. That song’s image of “a lightning bolt punch a bird right out of the sky” may be a nod to the sudden death of a flamingo in Charles Portis’s book The Dog Of The South. On a further literary note, Tweedy’s pal, author George Saunders, provides a couple of lines to the sprightly “A Robin Or A Wren”, a song that manages to roll together romantic devotion, love of life, fear of death, and a playful suggestion of reincarnation. Saunders’ lines are about “the end of the end of this beautiful dream”. 

http://

Tweedy, with his unerring ability to find himself while getting lost, ushers in a conclusion that is happy and sad, with hope kept aflame by his faith in the power of song. No matter what he does with Wilco or solo, simply one of the best songwriters alive. His lyrics are poetry. His vocal delivery invites you in and is so vulnerable. I like this a bit better than Warm, which was also brilliant. This is just another in a string of albums from artists over the pandemic that have blown me away this year.

Released October 23rd, 2020

All songs written by Jeff Tweedy
except “A Robin Or A Wren” written by Jeff Tweedy and George Saunders
Performed by Jeff Tweedy, Spencer Tweedy, and Sammy Tweedy,

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.

Ode to Joy is the bands the 11th studio album from the pioneering Chicago band Wilco – released via dBpm Records. The album features 11 new songs written and produced by Jeff Tweedy and recorded by Wilco at the bands’ own Chicago studio dubbed The Loft. 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 are back with Ode To Joy, a decidedly optimistic collection of new tunes of really big, big folk songs, monolithic, brutal structures that these delicate feelings are hung on.

 

Image result for pete astor

The first two 45s by The Loft had gone down a storm in the music press. Creation Records thought they were onto a good thing with The Loft. The four piece’s first two singles – “Why Does The Rain” and “Up The Hill and Down The Slope” in late 1984 and early 1985 had picked up a fair amount of critical acclaim and sold reasonably well for a purely indie-based label.  Theirs was the sort of music that had mainstream radio chart potential.

But The Loft called it a day in mid 1985 and out of the ashes emerged The Weather Prophets just under a year later with Pete Astor (vocals/guitar) and Dave Morgan (drums) joined by Oisin Little (guitar) and David Goulding (bass).

The debut single, “Almost Prayed”, wasn’t all that far removed from the sound of The Loft and by the end of the year a second single and a German import LP that had come out on an overseas imprint of Rough Trade Records had seen many tip them for great things in 1987.

But by now Alan McGhee had been given money by Warner Brothers to form a new label which he named Elevation Records and its first releases involved The Weather Prophets – two singles (one of which was a re-recording of The Loft’s debut 45) and an album.  But pop music and critical acclaim have always had a fickle relationship and those who had supported the band through the Creation years were disparaging with the Elevation releases although musically there wasn’t much between them.

The band went back to Creation in 1988 and released two more singles and an album which was a little bit rockier than previous efforts but still success eluded them. The band broke up in late 1988 at which point Pete Astor pursued a solo career and Messrs Morgan and Goulding became part of a new alt/country group called The Rockingirds.

The Weather Prophets are still fondly remembered and regarded as one of the ‘should’ve been’ bands of the era and so it is no surprise that they were included on the CD86 double CD. The song was one of the b-sides on their 12″ debut single for Creation back in may 1986:-

The actual single itself is a belter:-

Peter Astor’s previous band, the Loft, was a Creation Records labelmate of Felt and sounded like it, but with the Weather Prophets he smoothed the edges to create a more commercial, if somewhat generic, guitar pop style that lives on through groups such as Brideshead and Northern Portrait. Mayflower doesn’t have an abundance of individual character, but the songs and performances are excellent, even though the album didn’t achieve it’s hoped-for mainstream success. “Almost Prayed,” from the group’s first single, and new songs such as “Can’t Keep My Mind Off You” and “She Comes from the Rain” are full of hooky, jangly goodness.

from: “Mayflower” (1987)

Jeff Tweedy Previews His First Proper Solo Album with Twang-Tinged Single "Some Birds"

Jeff Tweedy  has shared “Some Birds,” the first single off his forthcoming solo album Warm, due out November. 30th through dBpm Records. The record, recorded at Tweedy’s legendary Chicago studio The Loft, will be his first proper album of entirely new solo work, and will feature liner notes by the acclaimed author George Saunders.

“Some Birds” finds Tweedy up to his old Uncle Tupelo tricks once again. The rusted alt-country of No Depression has, throughout the years, alternately been Tweedy’s boon and bane some of Wilco’s best work occurred when he was running as far away from roots rock as he could. But when he’s on his own, that naturalistic style of songwriting feels, well, natural.

Like Wilco’s collaboration with Billy Bragg, or Tweedy’s own cover of Dylan’s “Simple Twist of Fate” off the I’m Not There soundtrack, “Some Birds” just feels right. His reedy voice seems to be made for lap-steel slides and clomping acoustic vamps. That’s not to say he’s gone all “beer, trucks and broken hearts,” though—he’s still got his deadpan wit and an eye for good imagery. “Some birds just sit / useless, like a fist,” he sings to start. “I lean on the wall / like a broom, confused / by the scope it all,” he adds later, his metaphors always dangling for a few moments, leaving you wondering just how a fist is useless, or how a broom can be confused. It’s comfortable but funny, lived-in but not tired.

According to Tweedy, “Some Birds” is “like a lot of songs on Warm, being a confrontation between self and shadow self simultaneously feeling I’m to blame and not to blame, present and gone, and utterly confused, but determined to hold someone accountable.”

Official video for “Some Birds,” the lead single off Jeff Tweedy’s solo album Warm.

Tweedy will be touring this fall in support of his new record. Check out the “Some Birds” video

Spilt Milk is the latest album from indie auteur Pete Astor, previously of The Loft, The Weather Prophets, and other esteemed acts. It was recorded onto ½ inch tape at the home studio of James Hoare of Ultimate Painting, The Proper Ornaments and Veronica Falls, with James playing guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and singing backing vocals. “He was”, says Astor, “an amazing band.” Other contributions came from members of Astor’s live band, with Pam Berry (Black Tambourine, Withered Hand) supplying vocals, Jack Hayter (Hefner) on pedal steel, Alison Cotton (The Left Outsides) on viola, and Robin Christian (Male Bonding) and Susan Milanovic (Feathers) on drums.

The album has all the hallmarks of a future Pete Astor classic, drawing together key strands and tributaries of his work over the years, blending intuitive songwriting, acute lyrics and incisive melodies. After many years making more experimental, electronic music Astor has come full circle to the sound that made his name. He explains, “I’m back to being myself, bringing together sounds that I’ve used over time to make a record that sounds more like me than me!”

From the opening track “Really Something” to the recent single “Mr Music” (a favourite of Marc Riley and Gideon Coe on BBC 6 music) the album’s re-connects Astor’s bespoke guitar pop with his long-standing embrace of The Velvet Underground’s musical DNA. Other standout tracks include “My Right Hand”, a hymn to everyone’s best friend, with guest appearances from Tony Hancock, Marvin Gaye, Philip Larkin and a host of ex-girlfriends; the slow burning drama of “The Getting There” recalling the atmospheres of Astor’s 80s kindred spirits, The Go-Betweens. Also, there is the wry drive of “Very Good Lock”, summed up by Astor as “a description of an injurious medical condition that often affects the male of the species”. Elsewhere there are the gorgeous harmonies of the grown up country lament “Good Enough”, which wouldn’t be out of place on one of George Jones’ most heartbroken albums.

Spilt Milk is part of a continuum: from Astor’s beginnings with The Loft and The Weather Prophets on Creation Records in the 1980s, via his solo work through the 1990s and his more left field albums with The Wisdom of Harry and Ellis Island Sound on Matador Records, Heavenly and Peacefrog, through to his return to solo work with the Songbox album in 2012. As well as this ongoing musical activity, Astor is also Senior Lecturer at the University of Westminster, where he teaches, researches and writes about music; 2014 saw the publication of his study of Richard Hell and the Voidoids’ Blank Generation as part of Bloomsbury’s 33 1/3 Series.

Astor remains in touch, engaged and vital in a way that is rare with someone with such longevity. The album continues the story of one of one of England’s most respected and significant songwriters. As Astor says, “time passes, shit happens; some losses, some gains.