A Ghost is Born
Jeff Tweedy's lyrics over the last few albums -- the Loose Fur collaboration, Summerteeth, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot -- haven't exactly been of the warm and fuzzy variety. Equal parts hard imagery and soft-focus daydreaming, they seem to suggest silvery mist rolling off a body of water as readily as they do a walk in a big city full of glass and clang, steel and scream. Call it rock & roll in Grayscale, full of those gotta-jot-it-down notebook inspirations that swirl in one's head, a cacophony/symphony attracting connections and dis-connections in equal stead.
With A Ghost is Born, Tweedy's finally assembled the band he's had in his head all these years, and the result is as unforced a forward-thinking post-rock record as you'll ever hear. From the Tom Verlaine-style guitar histrionics of the opener, "At Least That's What You Said," to the 10-plus minute number-three hitter, "Spiders (Kidsmoke)," Ghost certainly lives up to its title. The album is at once haunting and nebulous, exceedingly hum-unfriendly but hard to shake. Guitars fairly shriek, or else lull one in a warm embrace not unlike the egg featured so plainly on the album's front cover.
The album features production work by the Jesus/Judas of Chicago rock -- Sonic Youth fifth wheel Jim O'Rourke -- which should surprise no one who's heard Tweedy's most recent material. One of the most polarizing figures in rock since another controversial Chicagoan, Billy Corgan, O'Rourke has ably photographed this Ghost with a light touch, mostly leaving the organic instruments Wilco "purists" love so much to steal the show.
Alt-country-type online boards like Postcard and Guitartown have bellyached plenty about this record, feeling left at the altar after Tweedy and O'Rourke consummated their relationship with yet another album that sounds nothing like Being There. Unlike other art forms -- would anyone give a shit about Picasso if he never left his "Blue Period?" -- music fans are notoriously fickle about change. No doubt, Being There is a great record. But Being Here is a lot more important, is it not?
Track to Burn: "At Least That's What You Said"
Grade: A--Timothy C. Davis
Two Lone Swordsmen
From the Double Gone Chapel
As Two Lone Swordsmen, Andy Weatherall and Keith Tenniswood are known for highly produced, dub-influenced techno minimalism. Their success and aesthetic have not changed (only progressed) over the last 10 years, but now TLS have sold their turntables and bought guitars. And a drum kit. Started singing, too.
But damned if From the Double Gone Chapel don't sound a helluva lot like their old stuff, only with real guitars and drum kits and singing over the synths. Opener "Stack Up" piles up and breaks down like countless TLS instrumentals before it: the drums are dubbed-out, while concurrent keyboard and guitar bass lines drag a tune out from a sonic rubble of cricket effects and far-off guitars. Of the six vocal tracks, "Taste of Our Flames" and a cover of Gun Club's "Sex Beat" are the most surprising. "Our Flames" features acoustic guitars and bowed bass put through production hell under speak/sing male/female vocals ala prime Tricky. "Sex Beat" has "We can fuck forever, but you'll never get my soul," and that's more than enough.
Double Gone isn't the massive departure TLS seems to think it is, but it is nice to hear them slink out from behind the computers and blink innocently in the bright light that is Guitar Rock.
Track to Burn: "Sex Beat"
Grade: B --Jesse Steichen
Bobby Bare, Jr.
From the End of Your Leash
Bobby Bare, Jr., the hell-raising son of a famous musician, has never been shy about his penchant for drinkin', druggin' and fornicatin'. Thematically, it's all here on his new disc. Breaking it off (permanently) with that special someone ("Valentine"), hanging out with your drug dealer ("The Terrible Sunrise") and drinking way to too much ("Let's Rock & Roll") are all familiar BBJ topics.
But what has changed is the musical palette from which Bare paints his tales of wretched excess. There's the Morphine-like indie rock of "Strange Bird," the Stax-inspired horn-driven rave-up "Valentine," the So-Cal beach harmonies of "My Favorite Hat," and the gorgeous chamber pop of "Don't Follow Me, I'm Lost."
Among a host of special guests, (Will Oldham, three Lambchoppers, two Jesus Lizards) Andrew Bird stands out. The spirit of Bird's Weather Systems, a little-heard summer storm of a record that sold about 47 copies and wound up on 47 "best of" lists in 2003 -- permeates the soul of this record beyond the several songs the violinist plays on. It's rare for a disc to occupy the gutter and the heavens simultaneously, but that's where you'll find this one.
Track to Burn: "Don't Follow Me (I'm Lost)"
Grade: A- --John Schacht