BEST OF 2011: 9. Wilco – The Whole Love

Having mellowed in recent years, this eighth studio outing represented something of a rebirth. 2007’s ‘Sky Blue Sky’ was a lush and mature record which captured a band with nothing to prove and a confidence born of having made it through trickier times. Unfortunately, such confidence resulted in the somewhat undercooked and surprisingly forgettable ‘Wilco (The Album)’ in 2009. I feared that this was it: the start of the slow descent into mediocrity and middle aged chug. I have had the error of my ways thoroughly highlighted by both this record and their recent UK tour supporting it. This is as strong an album as Wilco have ever put out, just without the drama of being dropped or filmed dramatically in black and white.

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Inhabiting a world somewhere between the emphatic organ-chug of prime Costello which puts in a performance on the excellent first single ‘I Might’, and the more delicate moments of ‘The White Album‘, classic hooks and sing-song choruses are prominent. ‘The Whole Love’ is a nuanced record which highlights musicians with a stunning grasp of melody and a lyricist no longer at war with himself. Less polished and with a real warmth so lacking on their last outing, this is nevertheless an album which asserts its presence from the off.

Album opener ‘Art Of Almost’ emerges from a squall of static into something urgent and convulsing, before finally capitulating to its own spit and swagger seven minutes later. Meanwhile, ensuring that the album’s conclusion is no less stunning than its start,  the twelve-minute ‘One Sunday Morning’ (fourteen if you go for the double vinyl) is a lolling, meditative conclusion unlike anything the band has previously recorded. It is plucked into life, the most delicate touches of piano initially underscoring it, before Tweedy appears, seemingly pressed up close to the microphone, gently intoning the vocal. It never gets any more energetic, despite a little xylophone here and the odd floating drone of electric guitar, but that’s not to say it isn’t one of the most beautiful things the band have ever done. Considering its length, the time flies and the utterly gorgeous musical interplay is an absolute joy to take in, time and again.

And that’s without mentioning stone cold classics like the title track, ‘Sunloathe’ and ‘Capitol City’. Having forged a reputation for making sonically adventurous albums only to find aural contentment and a certain cosiness, they appeared to have commenced the ploughing of a particular furrow. However, as demonstrated by their clear enjoyment during an incendiary live show I saw several months ago, they are very much back in the game. Put simply, this isn’t just an excellent addition to the record collection of a Wilco fan, it’s a remarkable record full stop.

October Reviews – Wilco, Still Corners, Veronica Falls & Youth Lagoon

My, how time flies. Does the ‘I moved house two months ago’ line still cut it? No? Oh well, that’s all I’ve got. Today, I have arranged the ‘office’, set up the new computer and filed a large chunk of the previously mentioned (and previously unboxed and ignored) CDs.

o

WILCO – The Whole Love’ (dBpm / ANTI)

Wilco

Having mellowed in recent years, this eighth studio outing represents something of a rebirth. Inhabiting a world somewhere between the emphatic organ-chug of prime Costello and the more delicate moments of ‘The White Album‘, classic hooks and sing-song choruses are prominent, with two exceptions. Album opener ‘Art Of Almost’ emerges from a squall of static into something urgent and convulsing, whilst the twelve-minute ‘One Sunday Morning’ is a lolling, meditative conclusion unlike anything the band has previously recorded. The ten tracks which lie between are effortless and nimble and Jeff Tweedy seems to be a lyricist no longer at war with himself. An excellent return.

A fine return and the noodling moments are most welcome. I was one of those who found ‘Wilco (The Album)’ a little light on excitement and normal service is very much resumed here. The art of the jangly American classic is still the main focus for Tweedy and his men and there’s a wonderful double vinyl pressing, with free CD, which I would recommend seeking out. If they’ve never meant anything to you previously, this won’t suddenly clear the mists, but I can’t imagine many fans being disappointed.

Continue reading “October Reviews – Wilco, Still Corners, Veronica Falls & Youth Lagoon”

Not quite just played, but recently

It’s been a while since I did a rambling ‘things-I’ve-been-listening-to-and-quite-like’ type post, so this be one of them.  While plenty of new stuff has crept in, this week has involved a lot of Manics. I’ve been suckered in by the Mini-LP, 2CD Japanese reissues of their studio albums prior to ‘Journal For Plague Lovers’, despite owning all of them and most of the accompanying b-sides. They are utterly lovely though and it has resulted in me realising a couple of things. Firstly, I know the b-sides from the ‘Everything Must Go’ and ‘This Is My Truth’ like they are unofficial national anthems, something that’s not replicated with the more recent albums, suggesting that as I’ve got older, I’ve spent less time with b-sides, despite rabidly gathering them all up. Secondly, as a direct consequence of the last point, the bonus tracks on ‘Lifeblood’, in particular, took me aback. They’re really very, very good and the consistency was still there, even if my attention wasn’t. Oh, and it was another excuse to listen to their gloriously bombastic version of ‘Umbrella’. I love the idea of bonus disc reissues and the notion of an alternative history being offered up by those lesser-known songs. Sadly, very few reissues offer much of any real merit, but these are wonderful collections and this allows me to now say that I didn’t just buy them because they’re shiny and nice. I also bought them to reevaluate a musical legacy. Albeit one in shiny packaging.

I bought The Low Anthem album, ‘Oh My God, Charlie Darwin’, whilst down in London for a bit of real life, over the counter, music you can touch, record shopping back in April. Back then, it was proudly described as a ‘Rough Trade Exclusive’ and it came in a blue card, hand stamped sleeve. It struck me as a marvellous but curious little record and certain tracks got pretty regular plays. I now find it quite surprising to see it receiving a sizeable media focus; it seemed such a tiny, niche release only a few months back. Anyway, because I’m a sad obsessive, I ended up purchasing the vinyl pressing of the new Bella Union release of this wonderful album this week and it sounds absolutely magnificent. It turns out that I haven’t actually bought exactly the same thing twice. Apparently, the album’s been remastered in the interim and resequenced for some reason. I can’t say I really noticed all the much in the way of sonic difference, but then people say that their debut album, ‘What The Crow Brings’, is poorly recorded and I think that sounds rather lovely too. What I can recommend is the pressing quality of this vinyl edition and also that aforementioned debut album which you can buy from their site as a CD preorder (they’re making some more copies – hand stamped and all that malarky) along with a free, instant download to be getting on with. It’s worth also noting that this is yet another solid gold release by Bella Union, a label seemingly unable to do any wrong. Peruse their site, click buy next to pretty much anything and you’ll not be disappointed.

The latest Ohbijou record, ‘Beacons’, is getting played rather a lot round these parts. Ethereal is probably the best word for it and, frankly, it’s more eloquent than sodding marvellous which is the only other way I’ve got for describing it. Pick any track at random, have a listen and I defy you to not fall in love with it. Seriously. Did I mention that it’s on Bella Union?

The new album by The Rumble Strips arrived this week and my first impressions were not great. Apparently, it’s a big step on from the last album, it’s less like Dexy’s and it had added Mark Ronson. Hmm. It’s not a huge success. Firstly, they still sound very like Dexy’s at times, just not as well as they did on the first album and thus it is less enjoyable. Secondly, the sense of fun that made me really rather warm to their debut (‘Girls And Boys In Love’, in particular) doesn’t seem to be there. Now, this is fine in itself, but not when it hasn’t really been replaced with anything else. I’ll give it time, but I think the attempted reinvention may not have been necessary after all.

Plenty of time has been spent picking over all of the b-sides and remixes offered up by the luxurious and really rather shiny (spot the pattern?) Girls Aloud singles collection box set. It’s not hugely revelatory – I knew they were great beforehand, but it’s thoroughly enjoyable stuff for dipping in and out of. The musical equivalent of a ‘toilet book’, I suppose. For example, the weird vocoder effects used on the single mix of ‘Untouchable’ didn’t warrant an additional purchase after buying the album, but it makes for an enjoyable listen when offered up as part of as massive collection of top-notch pop.

I continue to delight in the majesty of the self-titled album by The Duckworth Lewis Method, such is its summery splendour. They recently performed ‘Test Match Special’ on Test Match Special. Arf, arf! What larks. Still, a suitable way to celebrate a decent performance by England this weekend. Alternatively, celebrate shite boats and being pissed by downloading the bonus track, ‘Pedalo’, from iTunes. It was one of the first albums I reviewed for my new glossy-paged home and this leads me nicely to talking about one of the other records from that first batch: Magnolia Electric Co‘s ‘Josephine’, which is Jason Molina‘s finest record in absolutely yonks. And that’s taking as given that the last few have been of a high quality nevertheless. In entirely predictable fashion, I bought the vinyl to accompany my promo CD and it is a fantastic pressing. This is all the more impressive as I’ve found Secretly Canadian vinyl to be of a varying standard in the past and this record truly deserved a decent outing on wax. And so it is. It’s soulful, it’s warm and yet still oddly bleak. Such is Molina’s way with a guitar. If neither Magnolia Electric Co nor his earlier outings as Songs : Ohia aren’t in your record collection you really should set about correcting that criminal oversight.

The quite simply bloody lovely new record by Wilco arrived from the delightfully mispriced (£8.98, free delivery!) Amazon this week and it does not disappoint. Although it seems to be getting some revisionist slagging, I loved ‘Sky Blue Sky’ and so already had high hopes for the appallingly titled, ‘Wilco (The Album)’. The vinyl pressing (What do you expect? It matters!!) is exceptional and the music’s not far behind. At times gently chugging, at times more upbeat and almost poppy than Wilco have been for some time, it’s a concise, summery record that you need to get now so it can soundtrack any remaining nice weather before the end of August. Or you could just wait until the inevitable reissue with a bonus disc that seems to have been the norm for the last few records. Tracks like ‘The Thanks I Get’ were simply tossed out as ‘bonus material’, despite being of album-worthy standard. Here’s hoping for more suitably spiffing bonus stuff this time out.

Having mentioned during the Glastonbury weekend blog overload that I was rather taken with The Hot 8 Brass Band, I’ve been giving their album a few listens of late and, while it’s not one I’ll play from start to finish all that often, it’s does have some truly inspired moments. The take on ‘What’s My Name’ by Snoop Doggy Dogg is reason enough to buy the record, before you even get to the charming interpretation of ‘Sexual Healing’. Suitably bargainous price and copies in stock here.

I’ll conclude with my current favourite pop nuggets. I recently mentioned that I’ve come round to the idea that La Roux, despite looking like an aggressive baby, has released one of the songs of the year with ‘Bulletproof’ and I can’t really see what might actually better it right now. I’m quite taken with the Freemasons single with Sophie Ellis-Bextor, even if she does sing “Heartbreak, make me a darn-ser.” It niggles away at your head that one and it’s hard to shake off. ‘New In Town’ by Little Boots is rather charming but I don’t imagine it has much staying power. The whole of the latest Pet Shop Boys album is still satisfying the vast majority of my pop needs. Feel free to recommend me any great new pop you can think of below.

Right then, suitably rambling as always but with a twist this time. The good folks at both teatunes and Jo-Whiley-hating* The Word magazine regularly share Spotify playlists relating to what they’re banging on about. So, I thought I’d shamelessly steal the idea and try it myself. It doesn’t cover everything listed here – Magnolia Electric Co’s new album’s not on there yet, neither are the Wilco album or La Roux – but it’ll give you a nice idea. Try it by clicking here.

 

*T’was them that made us have Fearne Cotton on daytimes. They killed her.

I just can’t deal with all of the success

Musical Revelations Of The Week:
M.I.A. – ‘Kala‘ – See yesterday’s post for the rapturous response to this record. I still can’t quite think how to describe this sufficiently. That said, it’s an enormous mish-mash of music and noise and it’ll hold your attention right through the eventual whirring of the CD player grinding to a halt.
Richard Hawley‘Lady’s Bridge’ – There are those who would have you believe that this record is Hawley treading water. Such nonsense. To me it seems the logical follow on from ‘Coles Corner’, and by that I don’t mean he’s simply remade his previous album, I mean that he has continued the lush orchestrations, developed the styles and honed his voice to its finest sound to date. Treat yourself to this one; you’ll not be disappointed with it.
Wilco – Sky Blue Sky’ – So, it turns out it was the album of the summer after all. Finally got a chance to test it during some lovely weather on Wednesday.
*MROTW is somewhat concise this week due to it being a bank holiday and us having guests. Sorry about that. Likewise for the NMROTW, although I suspect I’d have gone with this whatever the situation.
Non-musical Revelations Of The Week:
Gareth Jenkins is a clown – No further explanation required.
The Welsh rugby team has not bulked up like virtually every other team in advance of the World Cup – We get bullied. A lot. If we can’t be a constant force, we can’t win.
Realising that all the effort I went to track down my World Cup tickets was probably a waste of time – *cries a little bit – in a manly way, like*

Hear This…

Short but sweet today, as I’m keen to get back to Peter Guralnick‘s ‘Sweet Soul Music‘ book, which I’ve returned to yet again after picking up his biog of Sam Cooke for all of £3 in Fopp today.
Musical Revelations of the week:
MapsWe Can Create – a fabulous electronic album that’s simultaneously blatantly retro and one of the freshest sounding albums of the year.
WilcoShake It Off film – found on the DVD with ‘Sky Blue Sky’ this is a wonderful film with some outstanding performances of songs from said album.
Rufus WainwrightRelease The Stars – now I get it! It’s not so much cluttered as layered. If you’ve already dismissed it, give it one more shot.
Sly & The Family StoneLife – never heard this record before, but it was the only one of the splendid new, deluxe reissues series that Fopp had left in stock. A really engaging soul/funk album that I’m particularly glad I took a punt on.

Non-musical revelations of the week:
Peep Show – so they could maintain the high-standards, with the final episode the stand out for series 4. The pissing scene – ahem – was quite brilliant. Shame about the film, based on what I’ve read and heard about it.
A Bit Of Fry & Laurie – finally bought Series 3 and 4 and am once again enjoying the genius of these two. ‘Hey Jude’ sung with a helium voice was a particular highlight.
Andrew CollinsThat’s Me In The Corner – finished Andrew’s final installment of his autobiography. This one deals with his time at the NME, Q, Empire and the like and while a little lower on the whimsical humour of the first two, is an absolute belter for any media obsessives like myself. There few genuinely feel-good autobiographical works out there, but all three of College’s efforts fit into that category. I can’t recommend them highly enough. The others, should you wish to explore further, are Where Did It All Go Right? and Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now
I keep meaning to buy his biog of Billy Bragg, but never quite get round to it. Anyone wish to persuade me to do so?

Till tomorrow.

Ooooh…a card sleeve!

Walked in this evening to find the deluxe edition of the Wilco album on the floor. I hadn’t thrown it there, nor had it crept in during the day and arranged a provocative pose for itself – it had simply come through the door from an online shop. My initial quibble is with the phrase ‘Deluxe Edition‘. It has a card sleeve – like all Wilco albums on Nonesuch – and the booklet and discs come in a normal jewel case. The only ‘deluxe‘ thing about it is the bonus DVD. But then surely you just say ‘Bonus DVD‘ on the packaging. If it’s deluxe I expect it to be in a ridiculous book that doesn’t fit on the shelf or in a digipack made of old egg boxes – not a bloody jewel case. If anything this is a sensible edition – with a bonus DVD. It’s a minor gripe because the DVD is great. For a start the audio is LPCM 48/16 rather than Dolby Digital. If that means bugger all to you, all I’m saying is that the audio is excellent quality. The interview with Jeff Tweedy is nicely chopped around some live performances. He comes across as a decent enough chap who just wanted to make a good record. Thankfully he succeeded.
I feel obliged to point out that all of the naysayers that have been calling this album average are talking out of their, no doubt perfectly formed, fundaments. It’s a cracker of an album and one which has rarely been away from my cd player for the last few months. It’s certainly gentle, and less spiky than the last couple of albums but the songwriting is meticulous and the tunes gradually ensnare you until you keep wanting to go back and hear them again. So, in closing, it’s great. Just not deluxe, like.

The Manics managed a No.2 album with ‘Send Away The Tigers’, I notice. It’s great compared to the absolute stillborn release of ‘Lifeblood’, but I read with interest that it got there with sales of 38, 697 – only 700 or so copies behind the number one album from the Arctic Monkeys. ‘Lifeblood’ sold 23,000, or thereabouts, in its first week, missed the top ten and was never seen again. I have to confess to being slightly surprised by their resurgence – not because the music’s shite, simply that I never thought they’d be ‘cool’ again. I’ll be seeing them on the current tour and will feedback accordingly.

The Moz singles boxset for the years 91-95 was also on the doormat this evening as I’m on a bit of a Smiths/Moz kick at the moment. Currently digesting two books on his music and will attempt to form my thoughts, feelings and interpretations of his work into something here fairly soon. It’s pretty, by the way. I’m a sucker for these things.

Here’s a track from the spiffing Wilco record, entitled ‘What Light‘.

More soon.

It’s Still Here

Hello again.

It’s absolutely pissing it down here, and has been for the last 48 hours. My foot’s aching after falling down the stairs, but apart from these things, all is well. I hope the same can be said for you. Amongst the music related post this month was a particularly scary promo item with additional security. Now, I’m used to watermarked CDs – apparently any rips from these discs can be traced back to the original. Not sure if this has ever happened, I would imagine everyone’s too shit-scared to try it – and sealed cases for promos, but for the promo of the new Marvin Gaye reissue set for ‘In Our Lifetime’ it not only had a unique number on the CD, but it was also written on the jiffy bag. I didn’t really feel like I should be opening the thing, for fear of somehow incriminating myself. It’s like when you see a police car and you automatically feel guilty – even though you’ve done nothing wrong (unless we have any drug-barrens or multi-national fraudsters reading). Anyway, I’m pleased to report that the music on the discs is spiffing, containing the original mixes of the album before they were remixed, without Marv’s consent, ahead of finally being released.

Other promo stuff of note – in other words, some bands to keep an ear out for in coming weeks and months – includes Dirk Darmstaedter‘s new album, ‘Our Favourite City’. While his name makes him sound like middle-management in Ikea, the music is sun-kissed indie-soul straight out of the world of Josh Rouse‘s excellent ‘1972’ album. The cover looks bleak and you expect it to be a mopey, singer-songwriter record with ‘woe is me’ written through it and twelve songs that are identical bar the painful metaphors for loneliness. Joyous pop of the highest order. He used to be in a band called, ‘The Jeremy Days’. Poor bugger’s clearly never had any luck with names. See and hear him in action here:

Also, coming soon is the new album by Jonathan Krisp with the quite tremendous title, ‘No Horse, No Wife, No Moustache’. It’s part Royksopp and part Lemon Jelly. It’s that quirky dance music with vintage samples and easy listening sounds peppered with electronic trickery and loops to provoke twattish grins on a hot summer day (and after 48 hours of solid rain, as it turns out). It’s on the Cookshop label, while Dirk is on Tapete.

There’s plenty of vintage soul on the way as part of the Stax 50 celebrations, including the Johnnie Taylor live album, as well as the old Stax/Volt singles boxset reisssued as 9 separate CDs. Those CDs are naturally essential items for any self-respecting record collection and currently going for £5 in that there high street shop that rhymes with, well, shop. Also, ‘This Is Soul’, essentially the FIRST soul compilation has been reissued in a mini-LP-style gatefold sleeve along with a stack of bonus tracks. Nothing new, but they all sound tremendous next to each other – and it looks pretty!

As for the more conventional stuff, there’s some great mainstream releases on the shelves at the moment. People always expect me to be apologetic for liking the Manics, but I stand by the fact that they are rarely anything other than excellent. ‘Know Your Enemy’ was a pile of shite and ‘This Is My Truth’ was a few songs too long, but otherwise there’s much to love. ‘Send Away The Tigers’, their latest offering, is one of their best. Short and to the point, it’s riff-heavy, power-chord-obssessed and epic in a way that every other writer is comparing to ‘Everything Must Go’ – can’t see any point in disagreeing for the sake of it. If you’ve had even a passing interest in the band in the past, you’ll love it.

Wilco‘s album got a mention last time out, and it’s finally in the shops now. It’s possibly their best, and so I will briefly talk about it again. The heavyweight vinyl edition is on the way, as their 180g vinyl pressings for their last two studio albums were quite something, and this one will suit that treatment just as much. Not much more to say other than buy the bloody thing.

Say it very quietly, but the Travis album’s quite good. It’s their best since ‘The Man Who’, if not their best ever. There’s bit more kick on some songs and they’ve ditched the two things that have held them back in recent years. (1) Fran’s desire to be politically active in his lyrics, despite this sounding really rather crap (2) A constant determination to keep making songs that sounded like the old, successful ones. ‘The Boy With No Name’ sounds much less forced and is all the more enjoyable for it. Still not the greatest lyrics, mind.

Tiny Dancers have an album called ‘Free School Milk’ out in a few weeks and it’s barn-storming indie-pop to listen to whilst chewing on a bit of straw and putting on an embarrassing and potentially offensive ‘farmer’ accent. 80% enjoyable album from a band who are almost frighteningly eager to please. If you’re after future eBay profits, then picking up their early singles now mightn’t be a bad idea.

The Maps album, ‘We Can Create’ is a thing of electronic beauty which will wash over you at first, and runs the risk of not being recognised as the classy collection of tunes it is. Mark Ronson‘s ‘Version’ is worth picking up for the Amy Winehouse take on ‘Valerie’ and a funk/soul instrumental take on Coldplay‘s ‘God Put A Smile Upon Your Face’. There’s also a re-worked version of Maximo Park‘s ‘Apply Some Pressure’. Their latest album, ‘Our Earthly Pleasures’ reminds me of The Jam and Gene at times – no great surprise that they’d be linked – and in no bad way. It’s got some intriguing lyrics, a number of which I’m still not sure about – Profound or Shite? An example: “Nightfalls, And towns become circuit boards“. Listening to it the first time, in the rain, it charmed the pants off me, but when I listened back to it I was less sure. Anyway, it’s a decent little record that I’ll keep returning to.

Oh, and Bjork‘s new album’s out. It has to be said that listening in surround sound to her music makes me even more convinced that sounding like a mad fucker on your records must make it quite fun in the studio. At times ‘Volta’ is beguiling, but at other times it’s plain scary. I’ve no idea if it’s any good yet – does anyone else feel like listening to Bjork is a little like homework? You know you should do it, but it’s hard motivating yourself to do it properly, or to get to the end. Hmmm, and the packaging’s a sod to get into.

More soon. Much sooner than before. No really.

Speak soon,

Gaz

(Cross-posted to the blog in the hope of you nipping over to the site)