Hot off the presses: new music! Better said, new music that is worth your time.
Wilco – Ode to Joy – 11 tracks / 42 minutes
Jeff Tweedy and crew utilize both the melancholy of Schmilco (and Jeff’s solo work) and the spastic experimentation of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot on their finest effort since The Whole Love.
After “Bright Leaves” mopes along for four somewhat forgettable minutes, the album begins to dominate the listener’s ears with the beautifully morose “Before Us”. On that song Jeff laments our endless conflicts overseas, singing “I remember when wars would end, remember when wars would end; now when somethin’s dead, now when somethin’s dead, we try to kill it again”. The proceedings stay in bummer territory for the regretful “One and a Half Stars” in which Jeff admits to being high in bed all day, asking “so what?”.
The tales we tell ourselves and how they can shift with time is the basis for “Everyone Hides”, which is the first time the tempo picks up a few notches. The subject matter may still be dark, but it sounds a whole lot happier. “White Wooden Cross” was written after Jeff saw a cross by the side of a road and pondered “what would I do, if the white wooden cross meant that I’d lost you… Is it stranger to live, or is it stranger to die?”. Powerful stuff, indeed.
The two finest songs come back to back on the latter half of the record. The loud/quiet spastic experimentation of “We Were Lucky” fits nicely among the band’s finest songs and harkens straight back to the YHF era. (Side note: if you do not know Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, drop everything and get to know it). For five glorious minutes, as the drums pound along, Jeff softly sings over sparse guitar in between Nels Cline laying down some of the greatest avant-garde electric guitar noodling you will hear this year. “Love Is Everywhere (Beware)” was the lead single for a reason, as Mr. Cline’s six-string work is as earwormy as it is lush and compelling. These two songs illustrate a great band at their best.
All in all this is their most complete work in eight years and should be treasured by fans, but also serves as a fine starting point for those unfamiliar with the legendary indie rock band.
Key Tracks: “We Were Lucky”, “Love Is Everywhere (Beware)”, “Everyone Hides”
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/0RR7qfOCOOHXbPAO1P3G5b?si=3wzwZVF-QRiV9R1pIut7NQ
The Avett Brothers – Closer Together
One of my favorite folk/rock acts gets a bit too preachy on this collection that includes well-intentioned hot takes on America’s dark past, children raised by screens instead of parents, assault weapon aficionados, and female empowerment. They do still bring the goods on two songs that would fit anywhere in their discography: the raucous and Green Day-esque music of “Bleeding White” and the catchy lament of “Locked Up”.
Old Crow Medicine Show – Live at the Ryman
When I saw these guys in Salt Lake a few years ago, I remember them sounding better than this. Maybe their act is better if you are in the room, but this recording left me scratching my head. Having said that, their collaboration with Charlie Worsham and Molly Tuttle on “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” is pretty epic.
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Ghosteen