Posts Tagged ‘wilco’

Fruit Bats – The Ruminant Band

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Rating: ★★★★ ·

A slew of records into his career and Eric D. Johnson returns with his outfit Fruit Bats to release The Ruminant Band on Sub Pop.  Splitting time between Chicago and Portland, you can really feel the regional influences shine through on this album, filled with the wooded folk one would expect from the Northwest mixed with the quality production and warmth you’d find from like-minded bands in the Midwest.

Opening the album with a gentle folk number that rolls through the hills of your mind is where you first meet the voice of Eric D. Johnson.  As his voices rises and falls with the gentle acoustic work of the guitar,  you will find yourself falling in love with him.  When “The Ruminant Band” takes over the stereo from here, Johnson’s voice takes you somewhere entirely close to home, echoing with familiarity.  It’s one of the gentlest songs of the year, but one that definitely should make plenty of lists at the end of the year.

As energized as the album begins, or at least as far as one can go with this style of music, it begins to take a softer slide into the latter half of the album.  “Beautiful Morning Light” recalls a touch, and only a touch, of Wilco. The acoustic number is carried by the perfect range that is Johnson’s voice, which seems to be the dominating theme on the album.  It’s hard not to admire the vocal quality here when so many other bands are coating their lyrics and feedback and reverb.

“The Hobo Girl” is a mid-album stomper, in the midst of the softer side of things, that immediately recalls recent work from Dr. Dog, which is due to the saloon-style piano that serves as the backbone of the song.  The song even features flourishes of barroom discussion included to give a little texture.  Not sure why it’s necessary, but it makes it hard to get away from resemblances.  “Being On Our Own” is another song in the same vein as the previous one, but done with a little bit more of a Southern flourish to the vocals.  Set here in the middle of the album they provide the perfect pacing balance for the whole of the album.

The understated highlight of the album definitely has to be “Singing Joy to the World.”  Every instrument merely exists to bring out the melody and inflection in Eric’s voice, and it’s short time span makes it go along almost unnoticeable in comparison to the rest of the record.  Be sure not to miss this song, as you’ll be sore once you discover it’s the secret gem of the record.

Musically, The Ruminant Band is not full of anything that particularly jumps out at you as incredible feats of musicianship, yet the strengths of the group lie in that fact.  Every song exists as a tool to help Johnson’s voice succeed in the ears of the listener, and in that fact, the Fruit Bats have done an exceptional job carrying out a wonderful album.

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Download: Fruit Bats – Singing Joy to the World [MP3]

Fruit Bats will be playing in Austin September 2nd at the Mohawk.

FT5: Album Closers

0731top5coverIn the current state of the music industry, we’re all overly concerned with singles, rather than the completed album.  But, long ago, people put thought and art into the creation of the ending of an album, the summation of their musical statement.  We all have sat in our rooms, at least I hope, waiting for that last song, that last breath of music, in hopes of the perfect summation to an album.  A brilliant closer almost always warrants a brilliant album, and we’ve compiled a list of our favorite album closers that always guarantee we listen to said album all the way through until the needles hits the vinyl and emits that hiss signaling the end of the record.
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Wilco To Play In… WilCo?

wilcoSo word is now out that Wilco will be returning to the Austin area.  We say Austin area because you’ll be surprised to hear that the show isn’t even in Travis county and may require a stiff drive for some of you.  The now legendary band just announced that they will be playing a show October 8th at the recently opened Cedar Park Center in Williamson County (get it Wilco plays WilCo?).  The brand new arena will primarily be used for AHL ice hockey team the Texas Stars so we’re a bit confused on the venue choice.  Wilco is not the only act in the musical plans for the arena with George Strait and Kelly Clarkson both signed up for future shows.  Wilco, in a hockey arena?  In Cedar Park?  Um, okay.  Sounds like a plan that could go horribly wrong.  Tickets are not on sale at this time with no word on when they will be made available.

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Download: WIlco – You and I [MP3]

The Fiery Furnaces – I’m Going Away

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Rating: ★★★½ ·

It’s hard to follow The Fiery Furnaces, as their genre hopping and musical expeditions tend to lead followers in several directions, occasionally at the same time.  However, you’d be reluctant not to notice the prolific output of the group, and their continuous relevance musically.  Their latest album, I’m Going Away, is chocked full of deviating paths and piano-laden hooks.

I’m Going Away beings with a song referencing the title, but it’s more of a statement song, allowing listeners to get just a brief taste of the band’s latest affair shortly before ending.  “Drive to Dallas” is the first exemplary song on the album, as the Friedbergers bounce back in forth between lounge piano work and lightning noise-infused guitar licks, just as Eleanor picks the pace of the song up with her vocals.  It’s place back to back with “The End is Near,” which sounds an awful lot like it could replace one of the various theme songs from your favorite sitcom of the eighties.  You should take a listen to Eleanor here, as her voice is remarkable once again, contrasting against her brother Matt’s as they trade verses and share roles during the chorus. Moments like this come about so rarely, but be thankful for a song such as this.

Speaking of voice, you have to wonder why Ms. Friedberer doesn’t get more love in the vocal department these days.  Her vocal range is spectacular, from the lounge-y hints during “The End is Near” to her close Costello approximation on “Charmaigne Champagne.”  She goes back and forth across tracks throughout the album, and you can’t help but envy the pipes she possesses.

Coming across “Even in the Rain” you will be pleased to find the band at possibly their most accessible during their entire career.  It’s a fairly simple song accompanied by Eleanor’s trademark poetry and very light percussion.  In fact, it almost sounds like the sort of song you might find (or wish) that Wilco was creating nowadays.  Similarly, “Ray Bouvier” hits at the hearts of listeners, gentle in progression and light in its texture.  The bare bones of the group appear to be the brightest this go round, and the entire album bursts forth thanks to this approach.

Epic songs such as “Take Me Around Again” or “Lost at Sea” surpass expectations of what one expects from a long Furnaces song.  After years of honing their skills, they group seem to bring it all in closely, barely deviating as far as we remember them doing on various other numbers.  It’s this newfound ability to hold back and focus that seems to have created some of the stronger songs on this side of the band’s career.

I’m Going Away is the most accessible Fiery Furnaces record to come out in a long time, largely driven by piano driven tracks and an ability to hold back the reins when the band would normally go into a schizophrenic foray into the outer realms of our pop indulgence.  It’s good from front to back, and you know you won’t complain about that.

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Download: The Fiery Furnaces – The End Is Near [MP3]

Wilco – Wilco (The Album)

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Rating: ★★½ · ·

Everyone always has Wilco on the mind.  No matter where you go, you find someone you know that adores Wilco, which is acceptable, as they’ve managed to put out some phenomenal records. The question on everyone’s lips will be whether or not Wilco (The Album) will be one of those feats of greatness, or something along the lines of Sky Blue Sky. More than likely, once everyone has listened for an ample amount of time, it will lean more on the side of their later work rather than their earlier strengths. Alas, such is the life for a band of such stature.

One of the strengths of this album is that Jeff Tweedy has his voice way up in the mix, which provides die-hard fans with a chance to get more acquainted with him.  He seems quite a bit more assured here, as if he finally has come to realize that his voice is truly the backbone of the band, and without him they fail.  In all honesty, his voice is the best thing that runs throughout the album; it seems as if he would succeed to greater lengths if he just went it on his own.

This is where the album seemingly misses its mark.  Nels Cline has taken the reigns from Tweedy, and he now has control over the group. It’s much like the presence of Jim O’ Rourke; he has the ability to add greatness to a song, but the power to destroy it in various moments.  His guitar work meanders through the songs, but haphazardly, which decreases his strengths, and that of the band.  Nels, and the band, travel into territory that seemingly adds little to the progression of the songs as a whole, bringing the listener to a point of indifference.

“You and I,” however, is one of the best songs the group has ever written. Sure, the presence of Feist doesn’t ever hurt anyone, aside from being played on various iTunes commercials, but the song itself exemplifies the gifts Tweedy possesses as a songwriter. It’s on of the more straightforward songs, and it demonstrates Tweedy at his best, without the tampering of Nels Cline.  “Solitaire” is another such song where Tweedy seems to go it alone.  You can’t deny the power of his voice in such a song, and you can’t deny the intimacy with which he sings.

But, at the end of the day, the band lacks much of the interesting moments they’ve maintained on previous releases. Their formulaic styling as of late leaves much to be desired, and it seems as if its rendered the band rather mundane.  While they once peaked your interest with various approaches to Americana, they seem to have dwindled far away from those moments, instead settling for the most basic song elements.  So you find the band traversing such territory, dancing with tried and true strategies, while fading away with their modern twists on the genre.  Sadly, it just doesn’t garner much interest for listeners, which is a place Wilco fans never thought the band would go.

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Dowload: WIlco – You and I [MP3]

R.I.P. Jay Bennett

jay-bennettAs you can see ATH is taking Memorial Day off, but we wanted to share some sad news with everyone before signing off.  Jay Bennett, formerly of Wilco, has passed away today at the young age of 45.  No cause of death has as of yet been reported.  The Chicago Sun Times has more information as it develops.  To say the least, this is the worst news we’ve ever reported on.  Jay was someone that we all admired here at ATH and loved most anything he worked on with or without Wilco.  Jay will be best remembered as one of the creative minds behind historic Wilco albums Being There, Summer Teeth, and the big one Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.  Words won’t do you justice Mr. Bennett, so we’ll just say that you will sorely be missed by all.  Your music was far ahead of its time.

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WilcoStreams New Album

Wilco is streaming their new album Wilco (The Album) from their website!  The stream is really crappy and poorly set up… but check it out anyway.  Anyone want to offer some first opinions?  You can get your physical copies of this one June 30th via Nonesuch.

Wilco Cover Woody Guthrie

wilcoWilco just recorded a cover of Woody Guthrie song “Jolly Banker” and they are giving the song away for free on their website.  The only catch is that the band is asking that you make a donation of at least two dollars to the Woody Guthrie foundation.  This song reminds me of the old days when Wilco had more twang to their sound and weren’t a jam band yet.  Wilco also recently put out a live DVD called “Ashes of American Flags” which you can buy here.

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