Albums Of The Month
1. TWEEDY – SUKIERAE
Since it has become fashionable to derisively refer to Wilco’s music as “Dad Rock,” it seems fitting that Jeff Tweedy would cleverly point to his own dadness by making an album with one of his sons. Sukierae, credited to Tweedy, features Spencer Tweedy, Jeff’s 18-year-old son, on drums and percussion, while the rest of the instruments (except for some keyboards and backing vocals) are handled by Jeff. This father and son bonding comes at a difficult time in their personal lives, as Susan Miller Tweedy — Jeff’s wife and Spencer’s mom — was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in early 2014. None of the songs on Sukierae deal directly with this sort of familial crisis, but there’s a note of struggle and hope in songs like “Wait for Love” and “Nobody Dies Anymore,” while the opening lines of “New Moon” — “Well, I’ve always been certain nearly all of my life/One day I’d be your burden and you would be my wife” — clearly refer to the ways time and circumstance can change the balance of a relationship. But whatever the literal or metaphorical meaning of the lyrics on Sukierae, musically this album finds Jeff Tweedy stepping away from the grand-scale sound of Wilco for a set of songs that feel significantly more intimate and personal. Spencer’s drumming certainly makes a difference; his style is solid but with an exploratory bent, sometimes throwing in rhythms and fills that recall hip-hop beats while elsewhere bringing out slightly prog-like colours on the toms and cymbals, and if he’s not as precise as Wilco’s Glenn Kotche, his percussion (which is played up strong in the mix) gives this music an organic sound that fits the songs well. As for Jeff, he’s never been a virtuoso guitarist, but on Sukierae he gives himself more room to explore on his instruments than he has since his work with the side project Loose Fur, and his instrumental work, elemental but atmospheric, cuts to the core of these melodies, which are frequently downbeat but also quite beautiful. In their own low-key way, these songs sound like Jeff Tweedy’s most passionate, heartfelt work since Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and Sukierae is a powerful, emotionally naked work that gives him a chance to do things he likely couldn’t have made work quite so well with his band. And if this is Dad Rock … well, sometimes dads have stories worth hearing, and Sukierae shows that Jeff Tweedy more than qualifies.
2. SINKANE – MEAN LOVE
Born in Sudan, raised in Ohio, and relocated to Brooklyn, Ahmed Gallab spent time as an auxiliary drummer/musician with bigger-name indie acts such as Caribou and Eleanor Friedberger while always working on Sinkane, more or less his solo project and an outlet for limitless exploration of various genres, influences, and unlikely sonic combinations. Mean Love is the third album from Sinkane, following in the eclectic footsteps of 2012′s Mars. Also released on the seminal dance-punk imprint DFA, Mars ran through a variety of musical appropriations, meshing heavily borrowed Fela-esque Afro-beat and ’70s funk with the indie psych sensibilities of bands Gallab had been affiliated with, like Yeasayer. Mean Love follows a very similar blueprint, with Gallab building his summery tunes on foundations of heavy-handed reference points. “New Name” begins with the exact same group yelp of “aaaaaaahhhhh yah!” that kicks off the Meters’ classic “Cissy Strut,” but quickly blurs into a blend of soft ambience and rubbery Afro-beat grooves, with some close parallels to Caribou’s more adventurous work. This type of familiarity carries through much of the album, with songs nodding to Curtis Mayfield, Talking Heads, early Parliament, and other rhythmic figureheads, all blended to perfection with Gallab’s own unique approach. “Moonstruck” even takes a detour into some strange hybrid of glittery psych and breezy bossa nova. With its various exercises in genre bending, Mean Love could easily feel like a string of unofficial cover songs, but Gallab’s wild combinations feel much more curious and sincere than that. A true obsession with sound comes through on Mean Love, and regardless of the mode Gallab finds himself in at any given moment, stellar production and heartfelt songwriting keep the album engaging and beautiful at every turn.
3. HISS GOLDEN MESSENGER – LATENESS OF DANCERS
Lateness of Dancers, Hiss Golden Messenger’s debut for Merge, is a more melodic and polished affair than we’re used to; it is also true that founder and songwriter M.C. Taylor’s songwriting and vision have grown considerably since 2013′s fine Haw. Lateness of Dancers — its title taken from a Eudora Welty story — retains that source’s earthiness as it engages everything from folk, country-rock, back-country fiddle music, and even Southern R&B, the latter by way of an electric piano whose use recalls Muscle Shoals and Stax. Opener “Lucia” borrows the one-two, one-two rhythmic thump so prevalent near the end of Bob Dylan’s Street Legal — smearing it with Bobby Charles’ greasy groove sensibilities as Tyler’s wah-wah Stratocaster, distorted steel guitars, and Wurlitzer blur in the backdrop. Taylor’s lyric is couched in reverie and symbolic mysticism, and rolls atop the center confidently. While “Mahogany Dread” digs into the past, it celebrates the more humble present with gratitude, underscored by a sprawling B-3 and Tyler’s tight, tasteful fills. The title track scales it all back. A simple acoustic guitar introduces Taylor’s grainy vocal in offering some of the record’s finest lyrics, a piano, Sauser-Monnig’s gentle backing vocal, and a subtle organ to underscore his purposeful delivery. “I’m a Raven (Shake Children)” is a downright snaky, nearly funky blues; Charles’ spirit and Dylan’s R&B period come wafting — though more economically — through again. A different version of that idea — this time evocative of J.J. Cale — haunts the stellar “Southern Grammar.” “Black Dog Wind (Rose of Roses)” is a slow country waltz. Its lyrics juxtapose the lessons of a father recalled in the protagonist’s determination to make his own way no matter the cost. The wisdom of those teachings is illustrated fully — if not deliberately — in “Drum,” the bittersweet, breezy, back-porch fiddle tune that closes the record. Four albums in, Lateness of Dancers reveals the arrived-at maturity in Taylor’s songwriting, and his ability to convey, in the first-person narratives of his protagonists, a way through the complex notions and pain of living in the world by embracing them on their own terms, with no attempt at escape. The songs, arrangements, and Taylor’s and Hirsch’s deft production are all rimmed with — not drenched in — light. Taken together, they underscore the existential grit and elemental spirituality that illustrate Hiss Golden Messenger’s best work.
4. SBTRKT – WONDER WHERE WE LAND
5. PRINCE – ART OFFICIAL AGE
6. ORLANDO JULIUS WITH THE HELIOCENTRICS – JAIYEDE AFRO
7. RYAN ADAMS – S/T
8. SEAN ROWE – MADMEN
9. LEONARD COHEN – POPULAR PROBLEMS
10. ROBERT PLANT – LULLABY & THE CEASELESS ROAR
11. DANIEL GRAU –THE MAGIC SOUND OF
12. PERFUME GENIUS – TOO BRIGHT
13. GOAT – COMMUNE
14. ALLAH LAS – WORSHIP THE SUN
15. DARK SKY – IMAGIN
16. SUN RA – IN ORBIT OF RA
17. APHEX TWIN – SYRO
18. BONNIE ‘PRINCE’ BILLY – A GRAVE A SEA OF TONGUES
19. EARTH – PRIMITIVE AND DEADLY
20. SHELLAC – DUDE INCREDIBLE
*****CHECK OUT OUR ALBUMS OF THE YEAR 2013!*****
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