Over nine studios albums and twenty years, Wilco has evolved from a hot new band with potential to a persisting, undeniably influential pillar of indie music. The band’s mix of old-school country and alternative rock (not to mention hints of folk, metal, and more) has been frequently fascinating, sometimes mediocre, and occasionally superb.
The band’s recent work, however, has lacked the perfection of their earlier, better albums.. After two decades of tireless musicianship, what was frontman Jeff Tweedy to do? The answer lies, not close, but at home.
His sole bandmate in Tweedy, his new duo, isn’t a fellow aging rocker, but his own 18 year-old drummer son, Spencer. Their debut, Sukierae, is a blithe, summery treat that feels like it’s been around for ever.
A seismic shift in tone for Tweedy won’t be found here; rock and country are still the keywords. But the chilled, breezy, gently hummable classic-rock vibe is a nice change of pace for longtime Wilco devotees and a perfect invitation for newbies.
Sukierae‘s first half features some of the most infectious, gorgeous songs of Jeff Tweedy’s career: the whispery folk track “High As Hello”, syncopated lament “World Away”, and the delightfully ear wormy folk-rocker “Low Key”. Debut single “Summer Noon”, the album’s highlight, strikes a delicate balance between the fast-paced rock tracks and the quieter acoustic numbers. Beginning with an echoey drum fill, the track consists of minimal acoustic strums, some bass plucking, and spare drums. It’s Tweedy’s voice, raspy and reflective, that gives it an elegant sadness. It sounds like noontime on the last day of summer; a time of disappointment, but also quiet joy.
Regrettably, the album’s delicate beauty wears thin, as the album stretches past the hour-mark and into “Why is this a double album?” territory.
Still, you can marvel at the sounds of Spencer Tweedy’s drumming, who proves he’s no cutesy family tag-along approximately 10 seconds into opener “Please Don’t Let Me Be So Misunderstood”. It’s hardly a shocker that he can keep a beat, but his skills on the kit, often placed front and center, are top-notch. Notice his clanging, uptight work on the purposefully jarring “So Misunderstood” next to the perfectly relaxed rhythms on “World Away”. That’s range.
While his songwriting skills don’t reach former peaks, Jeff Tweedy’s talent on the guitar (he can switch from a soft country strum to a frenzied electric outburst without a blink) is unquestionable. And his voice, weathered, wistful, and thoughtful, finds a strained, slacker-y tone that fits nicely with the loose atmosphere.
Father Tweedy’s greatest strength remains his way with a melody. Even when the record’s dull second half makes it clear there’s no reason for Sukierae being a double album, the plantitve yet somehow cheerful melodies make for a softly delightful listen.