Warning: Sukierae is a double album; twenty songs over four sides with just a little bit of everything in-between. While this concept alone is heavy-handed and overdone with varying degrees of success, it’s still one that Jeff Tweedy holds true to. No stranger to the format, with Wilco’s second, Being There, in addition to two seminal volumes of Mermaid Avenue, Tweedy still treads lightly towards newer territory on this solo debut. From the abrupt opening of “Please Don’t Let Me Be So Understood,” all the way down past sentiment and disregard, these songs fit rather well together, despite the occasional lapse.
Father and son, Jeff and Spencer Tweedy, are the heart of Sukierae, a hi-fi basement recording with all the right touches of perpetual noise and catchy refrains to turn heads at the neighborhood barbecue. At eighteen, Spencer is a continuous timekeeper for sixteen of these twenty tracks, matching his dear old dad’s righteous grooves with just the right pulse. No doubt a wave of jealousy perpetuates from the sons of doctors and business tycoons at school, while one can’t help but wonder how much tension resided in the studio.
It’s been twelve years since Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, an album infamous not only for its sound, but the rising turmoil further showcased by Sam Jones’ documentary I Am Trying to Break Your Heart. All the band drama aside, there is a particularly choice point in this film where a much younger Spencer tries to tell his dad about his favorite Wilco song by drumming it on his lap. After a few tries, Jeff finally guesses “Heavy Metal Drummer,” and the crowd goes wild. It’s this same dynamic that holds the most weight on Sukeirae. Past the studio magic and media gloss, rests a family.
That’s not to say that the other contributors don’t fit well into this backyard romp. Vocals from Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe of Lucius are essential to a vast majority of these tracks, including “High as Hello” and “Low Key”; keyboardist, Scott McCaughey rounding out the team. McCaughey’s extra clang of melodic irreverence is a real treat in addition to all those meticulously layered guitars by father Jeff. This is Tweedy’s medicine show, at times loud and victorious, but usually delicately solemn like the right hymn.
The twenty songs are hodgepodge mix of loss, love, regret, and all the right tongue and cheek vibrato. They run the gamut of Jeff Tweedy’s writing, from elaborately realized rock and roll down to the very marrow of his bones. Like Dylan’s The Basement Tapes, this album pulls together the right elements to effectively arrange a lot of diverse tunes into one cohesive listening experience. Considering it’s been three years since the last Wilco album, one can’t help but feel grateful to sit and absorb the unsettled leftovers from a prolific songwriter.
Sukeirae matches most of its punches with kindred emotion, although by the end, it’s pretty clear that one outweighs the other. There are a few low-key, near-drag cuts, especially on the last side of this record; parts where Tweedy’s croon and acoustic guitar make even the most wide-awake of travelers slowly drift away. Lyrically, he’s finely-tuned, each of these songs delivering a uniquely perceptive view on tendency and circumstance, but usually circling the drain of familiar loves and the discourse that they inevitably invoke. There’s still a good amount of hurt rising up from the southern slides and rocky kick drums of yesteryear, although there are certain points where the lines blur together.
Many of these could be Wilco songs, or find an appropriate disposition on the fuzzy compilations and seven-inches of both past and future Tweedy efforts. Sukeirae is a bold step in many ways, although Jeff has been playing solo shows just as long as he’s been in Wilco. The separations are present albeit seamless in nature and with a gradual familiarity that adds up after several listens. Could this record rock a little harder? Of course, but like many other double albums, it finds the jumbled middle, whereby the sum of its tracks creates the proper crater in the ground. Sukeirae is still fresh, full of life and like the surrounding impact lines, only needs a little more time to fossilize.
“I won’t say golden, until you let me back in.”