One wing will never fly.
Wilco (The Album)
30 June 2009
One wonders why the album was simply titled Wilco (The Album), and the visual presence of a partying camel (or llama?) on the cover. A dearth of cool album names, or an overly casual look for the band, after having once plastered a bald egg (mind-boggling, this), and a flying stream of black birds across the white sky (purportedly an award-winning photo that was also later featured on an issue of National Geographic) for its previous album covers?
In any case, the music definitely takes centrestage in this latest album from Wilco, kicking off with “Wilco (The Song)”. Why, as if we needed any more reminders. Or maybe this is what this is all about, really.
Wilco (The Album) presents a mixture of sounds and not-too-subtle hints from the band’s previous albums – Sky Blue Sky‘s “On and On and On” seemingly gets revived with a more uptempo arrangement here as “I’ll Fight”, while “Bull Black Nova” sounds like it could have fit right at home in the mostly-experimental A Ghost is Born, complete with colourful laser beams energetically beating down disco walls.
Then there is the duet “You and I”: a sweet, yet not-too-cloying attempt at lighting up the album with… some love; you could almost imagine the spotlight focusing on just frontman Jeff Tweedy and guest Leslie Feist as they softly sing to the gentle strumming of strings in the background.
My votes for best track go to: “One Wing” – a simple song that, when coupled with Tweedy’s forlornness, seems to inadvertently bring out the truth in the hopelessness around us; the aforementioned “Bull Black Nova”; and “Country Disappeared” – a song with an ending that came all too soon.
Here, Wilco sounds unabashedly Wilco: comfortable, and not having to break out of the norm with excessive electronics or saddle themselves with country rock. While I find Wilco (The Album) solid, with somewhat more radio-friendly tunes (though with some fillers I can do without), I doubt it will feature prominently as one of the band’s best works. But it does not matter, because Wilco, Wilco, Wilco will love you, baby, all the same.
26 May 2009
Unlike Grizzly Bear’s previous effort Yellow House, it was not at all difficult to choose a favourite track off Veckatimest. For quite a while, I had my ears set only to track number five – the aptly titled “Cheerleader” kept encouraging me to hit the repeat button time and again. It is no easy feat to sing along to a Grizzly Bear song, but with this track I attempted to (“I should’ve made it matter”). As mentioned previously, strategically-placed notes that come on gently in the midst of flowing harmonies and soaring choruses truly make all the difference.
The album starts off strong – the first few tracks like “Southern Point”, “Two Weeks” and “All We Ask” should have no problem finding their ways to listeners’ hearts. After “Cheerleader”, however (or because of it!), the flow takes on a lethargic turn, as if all magic had already been fully exercised on the earlier tracks. It picks up towards the end, suddenly running high again with “While You Wait for the Others” and then drawing to a close with the haunting “Foreground”.
It is rare for bands to top themselves but this time around, Grizzly Bear has emerged triumphant, for Veckatimest is truly a fantastic album.
Kingdom of Rust
7 April 2009
Listen to all four of Doves’ albums in succession – starting with 2000’s Lost Souls up to their latest, Kingdom of Rust – and you will find that there has always been some sort of a prevailing identity in the band’s music that holds them together. It could be Jimi Goodwin’s distinguished gruff vocals; the harmonious pairing of guitars and synthesizers; or the indisputable fact that Doves albums always seem to sail by quickly despite their length averaging at about 50 minutes each.
The band continues its trademark bold, anthemic streak, starting off with lead single “Jetstream”, which was made freely available for download a few months before the album even hit the stores, no doubt driving fans wild in anticipation for the new album. Other highlights include the loud, sweeping “The Outsiders”; summertime-feel “Spellbound”; and the relatively light “Lifelines”.
Doves’ albums have always had this modern and timeless feel about them – it ages not one bit – and Kingdom of Rust is certainly no exception.
The BBC Sessions
Belle and Sebastian
18 November 2008
A sure-win way to quickly winning your fans’ hearts: (1) a greatest hits compilation; or (2) kick-ass concert/live sessions.
I never did manage to connect well with Belle and Sebastian’s previous albums, and the only song from the band that ever stood out, to me, was “Like Dylan in the Movies”. But then came The BBC Sessions, a compilation of the band’s unreleased recordings from the previous decade or so (in disc one) and a live recording of their concert in Belfast back in 2001 (in disc two).
No prizes then for guessing why disc one is my favourite. Here, the vocals are heartfelt and sincere; the sounds raw and unassuming, as though the recordings took place right in your very own bedroom. You could hear the fanciful guitar work and the simple honesty (and breathlessness) in the voices lending personality to songs like “Judy and the Dream of Horses”, “Seymour Stein” and “(My Girl’s Got) Miraculous Technique”.
Disc two is not only louder, it being in a concert setting, with the audience’s screams and shrieks and the band members’ onstage banters – but the choice of tracks included here is also of the more playful and energetic type, including covers like The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” and The Velvet Underground’s “I’m Waiting for the Man”.
The BBC Sessions is essentially all that you need to get to know the band better.
Upcoming releases for 2009:
Kings of Convenience. Howie Day. David Gray. See Metacritic’s release calendar here.