Tweedy - Sukierae

Tweedy and son sally forth on debut double album.

Additional Info

8.4

ALBUM: Sukierae

ARTIST: Tweedy

2014

Alternative

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.”

1. Please Don’t Let Me Be So Understood
Playing off the Animals classic with his title, Jeff and Co kick of Sukierae with a steady frolic, lyrically paying tribute to past romps while still saying just enough. “I don't wanna give you satisfaction/I don't wanna call in code/I'm all in/You're boring.” It’s this disinterest and short run-time that really make the track pop. Not necessarily a call to arms, so much as a call out to those who can’t keep their mouths shut, Internet trolls and critics, all trapped somewhere in the crossfires. Be sure to duck, we’ve a ways to go.9.0
2. High as Hello
A steady groove keeps pace along with a well-placed slide guitar. The chorus is full of classic stoner rhetoric; a low-key play on words reminiscent of past Wilco efforts, while still adding enough flavor to the mix. It’s a cool breeze kind of track with enough variety in the arrangement and background female vocals from Laessig and Wolfe to keep the listener in limbo. Picture a younger Leonard Cohen with a lighter disposition and some county pals camping on his back porch before supper time.9.3
3. World Away
Treading along on the same riff, "World Away" lacks the healthy distinction of its predecessors. Not necessarily filler, but caught somewhere between stations. This song channels bits of John Lennon’s “Well, Well, Well” but doesn’t cut nearly so deep. It’s an angry transitional love song without the proper punch. Guitar riffs aside, this one could use a boost.6.4
4. Diamond Light Pt. 1
The longest cut on the record builds slow and steady, the advent of noisy static and uneven ground eventually taking hold. "Diamond Light Pt. 1" establishes a tethered anticipation that gradually blooms, but leaves the listener a bit aloof by the end. The individual sections of a whole come together, but there’s no follow-up. Part 2 doesn’t exist on Sukierae, trapped somewhere between conception and the studio floor. It’s a polished little ditty, but sometimes even the brightest of blinding lights reflecting back from engagement rings and anniversary gifts can’t lead us back home again.6.8
5. Wait for Love
Traditional country strings and guitar level the playing field. Tweedy employs his background actors, crafting a sweet and savory track with enough depth to hit a soft spot. It’s another love song, ridden with jumbled clichés and an overt whistle solo, but there’s no shame dimming the lights if only to see if all this anticipation has morphed into something concrete. Side A ends on the right kind of high note; now for the flip.8.7
6. Low Key
“I've always been a refugee /Of the very high strung /I've always been low key/Let's let the record show.” Our old friend, Jeff, really hit his mark at the start of side B. "Low Key" is a classic verse to chorus rendering with a foot-tapping arrangement and background vocals on par with ELO. Whereas this track could have easily caught the Wilco train, there’s something tender in the final product. Its unflinching rock and roll, a little fragile but far from incognito. Let the good times take hold.9.5
7. Pigeons
Here lies a heart on the verge. "Pigeons" seamlessly alludes to the father and son relationship taking place throughout the entire record. Although, unlike those that came before it, Jeff Tweedy takes on this particular song all by his lonesome. It mostly works, the three minutes that pass on par with that of "Cats and the Cradle or Father and Son", without the delicate crescendo of the latter. It’s bubbly and won’t make you cry, but perhaps think just a little bit more about those times in-between8.0
8. Slow Love
The cacophony of sound used most prominently on A Ghost is Born begins "Slow Love"; the repetition of “Slow love is the only love” harmonically centering the listener. This track is a spacey trip that lingers long after it’s done. There isn’t a real chorus, the verse and background vocals swelling together, leaving us all lost in the stratosphere by the end. The shift from past songs is what makes this one just a little bit above the curve, even if it’s still searching for the right turn in the darkness.8.4
9. Nobody Dies Anymore
Hands down, this is one of the best songs Jeff Tweedy’s ever written. Simple, contagious, heart-wrenching and full of grace, "Nobody Dies Anymore" floats on its riff, crafting a hybrid apocalyptic message of an incoming storm while still paying tribute to all the waves that have previously crashed down. “I stand where I grew/Oh, I hated that too /When hell's about to blow in/I saddle up new.” It’s about the new start as much as it is the end; the people that stay or those that occasionally check in. When it’s over, there’s still plenty more to say, despite all previous transitions.10.0
10. I’ll Sing It
This last track on Side B begins with a toxic bass line and build-up leading to tape hiss, before the same arrangement starts over again. "I’ll Sing It" is a dense rocker with a smoker’s cough rapport and jangling guitars laying it all on the line. Tweedy and son are at the helm with the background players all making the most of their contributions. It’s the perfect time to kick the doors down and keep the ball rolling; those involved doing so quite adequately. It’s time for a second wind.9.2
11. Flowering
We exit temporarily if only to begin again. "Flowering" is that branch you almost run into when you’re walking with your eyes glued to a screen. A completely chill beginner to the latter half of Sukierae, the verse flows directly into a chorus that only grows the second or third time around. Yes, it repeats the name of the song over and over again, and yes it’s pretty basic, but also unfiltered and without pause. "Flowering" is the most genuine of placeholders, and it does so without complaint.9.6
12. Desert Bell
More slide guitars and mandolin bring us back down to the country via the rockiest of roads. “Oh, I am sorry you won't recognize me/Born and bred to be led/and be dead by degrees.” Tweedy hits a poignant stability lyrically on this track, rattling off blushing metaphors and somber rays of light. Desert Bell is a sad, albeit upbeat testament to those we lose without distance or time in-between. It’s that feathery head rush of memories at the mere sight of somebody recognizable in the crowd.9.7
13. Summer Noon
Steady and simplistic, "Summer Noon" rests easy with the previous two tracks on Side C. Establishing a cleaner, less noisy theme than those first ten before them, this song fits well into the season it represents. Lovely rhymes from one beat to the next with just the right dose of bitter reverie to keep time. The bass line ranks amongst the album’s best, infectious and loose, while the last line really sticks. “Unless you wanna see/how hard a broken heart can swoon.” Who doesn’t?9.3
14. Honey Combed
Another solemn effort from just Jeff in the studio. Honey Combed is a short burst, acoustic guitar with a wobbly slide barely blinking in the background. What sounds and feels like one take has just as much to say as the previous outings, but gives off the vibe that maybe a few friends wouldn’t be so bad. There’s something grainy in the mix here, but it’s far enough from the surface for anyone to notice. This track slips between the cracks, but only by an inch.6.8
15. New Moon
Side C ends much in the way it began, soft but with a lingering itch just underneath the skin. “Well, I've always been certain nearly all of my life/One day I'd be your burden and you would be my wife.” It’s by employing these same lost and forlorn lines of lovesick derangement that Jeff Tweedy keeps the listener on their feet. "New Moon" isn’t the best time he’s said these or similar things, but it’s authentic enough to break through the murky disillusionment from imitators on the cusp of fooling their best friends. Not too shabby.8.0
16. Down from Above
One of the slowest tracks on the record, "Down From Above" sounds like a late-night mutter, sultry, but with descending eyelids. The arrangement is considerably lazy without much complexity between guitars and drums. It’s a front porch sit with those last few sips of backwashed beer to keep you company, not the worst of things, but as the kick off to the last side of a double album, one can’t help but want a little more.5.8
17. Where My Love
One of the first significant traces of grand piano on Sukierae echoes throughout this track. Bendy and almost intentionally hollow, "Where My Love" is one of the darkest on the record. Playing with the studio atmosphere, the background singers hum their lines paces from the microphone during a muddy transition. These little effects make the mood, leaving us all feeling just weird enough to stick around for those last few thoughts drifting away from everyone’s mind.6.9
18. Fake Fur Coat
Channeling Nick Drake acoustics, this song holds just as much weight as those far gone and departed. “I believe the myth may illuminate/an anchor in dry weeds/At the end of July in a fake fur coat/Hoping that your heart still needs me.” There’s still plenty of longing to be had and perhaps plenty more to believe in and hope for. "Fake Fur Coat" is spot on for two and half minutes of remedial wonderment. It’s the kind of song one needs to write and make alone without band or soul mate breathing down their neck, even if they happen to be the source of inspiration.9.4
19. Hazel
This quaint little number is about a girl. She’s a lot of particulars, but it’s pretty clear we all know and have heard about her before. "Hazel" isn’t the same kind of love we’ve been torn apart over in the previous tracks. She’s that kind of careless in-between; semi-tragic, important, but in many ways easily forgotten once the headache dissolves. She’s the kind of gal where the song written about her somehow manages to hold more ground, and why not? Sometimes these things are interchangeable.7.6
20. I’ll Never Know
Tweedy closes his latest with another predominately acoustic daze, leaving very few heavy hitters for the entirety of Side D. I’ll Never Know is well-placed ender, melodically eager and worthy of the occasional falsetto. It’s an afterthought to many possible outcomes left scattered throughout Sukierae. Personable and never over the top, Tweedy hits his mark as always, leaving the bare remains of a skeleton to poke away at, just far enough away from where it all began.8.6
Christopher S. Bell lives and breathes in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. His sound projects include Emmett and Mary, Technological Epidemic, C. Scott and the Beltones, and the forthcoming Fine Wives.

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