communions – communions

out june 2nd via tough love records
out june 2nd via tough love records

communions are already sonically far-removed from their debut effort, last year’s cobblestones ep.  this fact hasn’t exactly presented itself as a revelatory flip of a switch, but rather a gradual – albeit accelerated – progression; their 7″ that followed traded raw, gloomy horizons for unabashed sunshine, a big first step out from under the shadow of fellow copenhagen post-punk outfit iceage.  on their new self-titled ep, the young danish quartet continues on their journey of carving out their own recognizable niche.

vast improvements in fidelity are immediately evident, but it’s imperative to set that fact aside for a moment.  opening cut “forget it’s a dream” finds communions retracing the path back through the dystopian abyss that birthed them to a more dance-oriented palate adorned with synth pads, textured palm-muting, and a prominent trebly bass line that dictates the song’s entire momentum.  the guitar countermelodies that are layered on top suggest a further shift away from former formulas: arpeggiations are delivered with a distinct purpose that moves beyond outlining the song’s harmonic structure and more towards providing clear and invigorating contour.

similar strategies are again practiced throughout the ep, particularly within the lead lines on “wherever” and the insistent, minimalist repetition at the beginning of “summer’s oath.”  when traditional arpeggios do surface they’re often relegated to supporting roles buried lower in the mix, although “restless hours” is a forgettable chunk of this record precisely because it falls back on old habits.  “out of my world” reads as indicative of everything communions strive to be on this ep: hopeless romantics with a sunny disposition that’s at times warped by heavily-saturated soundscapes.

communions are a very young band that have a very good full-length album brewing inside of them.  their embracement of a higher fidelity runs parallel to their drastic improvement as songwriters, with each added nuance afforded the proper amount of clarity to be fully recognized and appreciated.  in a genre that can be cripplingly formulaic, communions have begun to take the necessary preliminary strides to expand their possibilities, resulting in a solid second ep stuffed full of ambition ambition and triumph.

interview – american wolf

american wolfchicago’s american wolf have spent the better part of the past five years meticulously honing a craft that blends stadium-caliber rock music with more introspective, sprawling atmospheric sounds.  the culmination of that work can be found on last fall’s my main sport, an album that quietly found its way onto our best of 2014 list.  we recently caught up with the quintet to talk about the songwriting behind that album, the chicago music scene, and the band’s essential mix of songs.  check out the transcript below.

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my main sport is your third full-length effort as a band, so i’d imagine you all have been at this for quite some time.  can you give a quick american wolf backstory?

the band was initially started as a solo-acoustic act by sal in 2010 in chicago.  he had a collection of songs that he self-recorded that year and called the advantages of being deaf, so i guess you could call that our first “record”.  eventually, he began looking for other members to play these songs with and american wolf was born.  since then, we’ve gone through a couple of line up changes and like you mentioned, released three studio records and a couple of eps.  additionally, we’ve tried touring and playing as much as possible.

there’s a stylistic shift from myriad to my main sport that could be perceived as moving away from smatterings of technical lead guitar work and more towards a cohesive, spacious soundscape dictated by the entire band.  did you have any particular sonic or textural goals while writing the new record, or was the outcome pretty organic?

it’s definitely a mixture of both.  myriad was made with two past members who actually left as soon as the record was done.  that definitely contributed to the way that record was created.  as a band, we took a completely different creative process with my main sport.  we had a chance to really step back and figure out where we wanted to go without feeling rushed or obligated to anything.  we wanted to try stepping into simpler musical arrangements with a more cavernous and atmospheric sound.  we’ve always been really into weird and surreal ideas so we wanted to incorporate that into our music.  but most of all, we wanted to say more with less.

talk a bit about the songwriting process on my main sport.  was the approach any different from previous efforts?

we definitely had more time to write my main sport than our other stuff.  we try to be active listeners and truly digest our influences.  it helped us revise and further develop our ideas in a way that we hadn’t before.  being our third record, we were more knowledgeable about the whole process and how we wanted to execute our ideas.  we tried experimenting with an array of ghastly and ethereal sounds.  musically, we wanted to create musical movements with lesser chords and fewer words.  it was definitely our most collaborative effort to date.

i think i’ve compared you sonically to silversun pickups, partially due to sal’s vocal range, and i’ve read other reports likening you to brand new.  who do you draw inspiration from, either collectively or individually?

we definitely love those bands and have been directly influenced by them.  we are always listening to new music.  i think that as musicians, it’s part of your job to listen and constantly ingest new stuff.  at any given moment we could all be listening to the same thing, or the complete opposite.  we’re really digging flying lotus and mum right now, and we’re really excited for radiohead’s new record as well.  they’ve always been a tremendous collective influence of ours.

where do you see yourselves within the spectrum of the chicago music scene?  do you have a support group of other artists and bands that you like to perform and/or collaborate with, or have you carved out your own niche?

chicago’s scene is always changing; it has a mind of its own.  it’s a city rich with talent and so many bands.  i think that the city has so much talent that people almost take it for granted.  i guess it’s somewhat understandable as any given night you can catch amazing music.  the good thing is that we get to play with so many different acts.  i guess that makes it hard to create a niche, but it helps us network and stay connected with bands.  most importantly, we’ve honestly just tried to establish ourselves as a band that loves what they do.

who have you guys been listening to as of late?  what collection of artists would constitute the essential american wolf mix tape?

track list as of late:

mum – “we have a map of the piano”
polyenso – “falling in rain”
muse – “starlight”
pup – “reservoir”
copeland – “like a lie”
st. vincent – “huey newton”
the decemberists – “make you better”
flying lotus – “coronus, the terminator”
tycho – “awake”
sigur ros – “isjaki”

essential list:

elliott smith – “ballad of big nothing”
owen – “bags of bones”
bob dylan – “don’t think twice, it’s alright”
jimi hendrix – “little wing”
thrice – ”open water”
periphery – “the walk”
led zeppelin – “good times bad times”
radiohead “2+2=5”
the beatles – “don’t let me down”
radiohead “knives out”

what’s on the docket for american wolf in 2015?

we’re going to be releasing a new music video for our song “cave fantasy” in a couple of months.  additionally, we’ll be playing a ton of shows until august or so and then we’ll head into a writing cocoon.  we’ve tried to make a point to travel outside chicago as often as possible, and we’ll be performing at audiofeed festival this year down in champaign, illinois.  we’ve already begun writing some new stuff and exploring where we’d like to head; we’re not sure if we’ll be releasing an ep or another full length.  it’s become increasingly difficult to release records every year as we are becoming more and more meticulous about the stuff we release.  we’ll see.

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those in the midwest would do well to seek out an american wolf show in the coming months.  the band plays a haunting brand of alternative rock that doesn’t quite match anything else coming out of the region, and their increased affinity for dreamy soundscapes makes the follow-up to my main sport that much more enticing.  look for more coverage when the “cave fantasy” video hits later this spring, and click on the links below to hear more of american wolf.

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queens of the stone age – era vulgaris

Era Vulgaris.jpg
interscope records

it was tempting to shift this segment’s focus to the queens’ 2005 effort lullabies to paralyze; this year marks the tenth anniversary of the album, and it’s always been one that has accurately reflected the drastic changes that impacted the band’s lineup and overall sound throughout the mid-2000s.  but as important as lullabies to paralyze was, its successor was even more telling.

if lullabies served as a partial reset button for queens of the stone age, then era vulgaris should be championed as proof that the band’s retooling worked.  the album sheds the band’s previous propensity for erratic song lengths and distills all of its contents down to similar sizes, offering up something that feels like the closest josh homme will ever come to writing a pop record.

sometime early in his career, homme coined the phrase “robot rock” to refer to the salient traits of his music.  queens of the stone age was a robotic project in the sense that a large portion of its guitar riffs were repetitive in nature, becoming a continuous mechanism that powered the vast majority of their songs.  this practice really came to a head on 2002’s songs for the deaf, with tracks like “first it giveth” and “go with the flow” leaning heavily on down-tuned, droning repetition, while others like “no one knows” and “a song for the dead” were cyclical in nature and relied almost exclusively on a pair of alternating riffs.

era vulgaris is decidedly robotic in a slightly different sense.  sure, the guitar remains at the forefront of the band’s sound – because the queens wouldn’t be themselves if they didn’t ultimately adhere to a meat-and-potatoes approach to rock’n’roll – but era vulgaris portrays a new, unabashed embrace of analog synthesizers that become an integral part of the album’s sound.

riffs that would have previously been considered robotic solely due to their repetitive tendencies benefitted from this new sonic delivery, as the angularity of the synthesizers on “misfit love” and their brutal interjections throughout “turnin’ on the screw” adds an industrial dimension to the band’s aesthetic.  it’s plausible to envision the entirety of era vulgaris being written and recorded in an abandoned factory, with buzz-saw guitar lines and metrically flawless drum parts metaphorically replacing the machinery.


part of this shift can be attributed to the changing landscape of principal songwriters in the band.  the first three albums were largely a collaboration between homme and bassist nick oliveri, with occasional vocalist mark lanegan offering lyrical input.  oliveri’s exit in 2004 precipitated all of the major changes in queens of the stone age, as new members troy van leeuwen and joey castillo filled in as contributors.  lullabies to paralyze embodied that dark period rather well, but it felt like van leeuwen and castillo were trying desperately to write the fourth homme-oliveri queens of the stone age album instead of relaying their own creative input.

that’s why era vulgaris is so fresh and different, the outlier in the queens’ discography.  never has an album, before or since, relied so heavily on elements of dance music or incorporated crucial elements of fundamental electronica without hesitation.  even the band’s approach to the most resounding of homme’s musical tropes is novel, as they strip down the effectiveness of repetition to its very core.  “sick, sick, sick” leans on a single note for over half of its duration, forgoing any semblance of melody in favor of strictly mechanized rhythm, and similar practices also ensue on “into the hollow” and “battery acid,” albeit with more melodic leeway.

the robotic nature of queens of the stone age is ever-present, and it will probably never leave.  what makes era vulgaris so remarkable is how homme has used his complete mastery of the aesthetic to prop up melodic vocal lines that are pretty much the antithesis of his riff-based guitar playing.  homme has always toyed with the notion that rock’n’roll does not have to be masculine, particularly by employing falsetto in his vocals.

his use increased as he became a more confident and permanent lead vocalist, and his unabashed embracement of the technique is on full display throughout era vulgaris.  from subtle hints on “turnin’ on the screw” and “3’s & 7’s” to more concentrated usage on “misfit love” and “suture up your future.”  this partial admission to vulnerability in turn opens up the possibility of more intricate, ambitious vocal contours which are evident across pretty much the entire album.

there’s a strong camp that fervently maintains that songs for the deaf is the finest queens record pressed to wax, and this is not an argument against that claim.  while that album is undoubtedly a display of flawless musical talent, era vulgaris holds its own due to its ingenuity and moments of delicacy.  the album’s lone bit of recycled material, “make it wit chu,” is repurposed from its desert sessions origins into a concoction that matches the aesthetic of the rest of era vulgaris, a slightly crass blue-collar love song to cool down with in between the more aggressive tracks.

there has always been an element of sexual allure in josh homme’s music and stage persona, and era vulgaris bears witness to that intersection.  queens of the stone age might be the finest rock band actively recording, and era vulgaris runs the entire gamut of their musical ambitions and capabilities.

rivers – of dusk

a musical trope that has become nearly synonymous with eau claire over the past ten years is the rustic, acoustic-driven tones of acts like the daredevil christopher wright, kalispell, and of course, bon iver.  at this point, a continuation down that already-beaten path may run the risk of seeming redundant, as if the artists might be trying to cash in on an established aesthetic rather than creating something genuine.  on the opposite end of the spectrum lies rivers, a three-piece currently splitting time between the midwest and the east coast; folk music is merely the vessel through which the band conveys their ideas, as opposed to their endgame.  on their debut effort, of dusk, rivers offers up a collection of songs that offer up a fresh new perspective on an established tradition.

dexter wolfe’s songwriting has always had a slightly enigmatic quality; even in the hard-hitting, comparatively aggressive setting of his previous band sky lion, it was evident that wolfe took various cues from introspective stalwarts like elliott smith and elvis costello.  the former’s influence resonates clearly throughout of dusk and particularly on “even if,” an early track that remains a standout through the album’s duration.  wolfe proves himself to be rather skilled in the department of imagery as well, bookending the album with lyrics like “beneath yellow leaves / with rolled up sleeves / eyes lost in the branches / of your family tree” (see “weeping willow”) and “it was the start of something beautiful / i heard her heart and tripped, well… i fell right down” (see “where though lies, death ripples”).  his capability to weave personal accounts with metaphor and personification plays off as effortless, and more importantly helps to establish rivers as a lyrically mature and formative ensemble.

the music that accompanies the poetry on of dusk is perhaps even more impressive.  alongside wolfe – who handles guitar and piano chores in addition to vocals – are pat kuehn and colin carey, who tackle upright bass and percussion duties, respectively.  kuehn’s bass playing is the timbral element that immediately stands out and seeks to separate rivers from the other bands who share a similar aesthetic; the long, mournful bowed tones augment the melancholy in the beginning of “even if,” but kuehn’s role also serves the purpose of driving the music forward in spots where carey’s percussion is rather sparse.  by itself, the resonance of the upright bass gives rivers a distinct, orchestral quality, one which is further explored multiple times through the string and horn arrangements found on “saudade” and “the locket.”  even carey’s drumming can feel symphonic at times, as he adds sparse percussive supplements to the more delicate moments on the album and aids the band in achieving their select few moments of absolute crescendo.

sharp songwriting and intuitive arrangements adorn of dusk, and its slightly haunting characteristics make the record a suitable companion for the chilly air that predominates these waning spring nights.  largely self-produced and entirely self-released, rivers and of dusk have proven to be adequate advocates for the continued support of independent, local music; sometimes all it takes is years of determination and perseverance.  you can stream the album here and find all of the dates for rivers’ upcoming tour, as well.

8.0/10

heavy rotation: rage against the machine – evil empire

the mid-1990s certainly could be described as a tumultuous time in the field of music, but i was too busy reading dr. seuss and playing with legos to really notice.  my parents raised me on a pretty steady diet of stan getz, dexter gordon, and classical music on npr; aside from the soundtrack to the commitments and a cranberries album, there wasn’t much in the way of current pop music in the house.  there definitely wasn’t even a whiff of rage against the machine to be found anywhere; even though they’re fairly liberal, brash politically-charged music didn’t exactly behoove two newly-minted academics working at a state university.  that’s understandable.

i don’t recall the precise circumstances that led me to rage against the machine, but i know it was sometime during my junior high years.  probably someone older than me was really into radical political ideology and i heard about them through the grapevine, but i can’t be sure.  anyways, i never saw my interest in the band as being grounded in politics.  at this point in my life i was predominantly listening to linkin park and snippets of commercial radio, but my thirteen year-old self was already growing tired of this mindless repetition.  i must have been tempted by the promise that rage against the machine was equal parts rap and metal, two genres i considered myself to be equally familiar with.

i worked mostly backwards through the band’s catalogue because my local best buy was rather poorly stocked, at least in my opinion.  i specify with “mostly” because even though a backtracking would indicate that i digested evil empire before their 1992 self-titled debut, that wasn’t the case.  my long-standing infatuation with live at the grand olympic auditorium and the songs the band included in their (at the time) final two set lists led me to believe that the bulk of their worthwhile music was contained within the battle of los angeles and that their nostalgic anthems were littered across rage against the machine.  by the time i did get around to evil empire, the songs fell flat for the most part and didn’t match up to what my expectations of rage against the machine had become.

as time passed and my musical horizons broadened, i largely left rage against the machine stored away in the fonder sections of my memory.  this was the band whose guitarist had primarily inspired me to start learning the instrument and whose frontman had exposed me to a dynamic stage persona as well as the importance of smart lyrics, but other artists were starting to fuel my artistic development in a more direct way and my overall palate was becoming less aggressive.  every once in awhile i would revisit the band for one reason or another, but the nostalgic trips never quite measured up to the original experience.

an unforeseen consequence of these forays was an increased immersion in and appreciation of evil empire as a part of rage against the machine’s discography.  a hesitancy to accept the album due to its comparative lack of familiarity turned into an understanding of its role in shaping the band’s musical trajectory.  while their self-titled debut certainly conformed to the basic definition of rap-metal, rage against the machine took a sharp left turn with evil empire.  elements of rap and elements of metal are undoubtedly present throughout the album, but they don’t always work in tandem; rather, evil empire feels more like a hip-hop album with heavy guitar riffs that occasionally crop up.

morello’s guitar playing had to change to fit this mold, and he executed the task by beginning to create the eclectic sound now so commonly associated with him.  he forgoes playing a single note on guitar in “people of the sun,” instead choosing to rub an allen wrench across the strings to create a unique timbral effect.  even when he does play riffs (which are found nearly everywhere else on the album), they often tend to be narrow and repetitive, essentially creating a live rendition of a sample for de la rocha to rap over.  equally important to the sound of evil empire is the prominent role of tim commerford’s bass lines.  the clean tone is swapped out in favor of increased amounts of distortion, fattening the overall tone of the band.  his opening line in “tire me” absolutely snarls and never loses momentum, while his role in “without a face” helps make the song one of rage’s funkiest.

the lyrics on evil empire can’t go unaddressed, either.  while rage against the machine was defined by angst, aggression, and de la rocha’s burgeoning talent as an emcee, its successor reads with a bit more finesse and use of metaphor, and even hints of the pensive reflection and anguish that would later be fully developed on the battle of los angeles’ “born of a broken man” and “maria.”  de la rocha voices his support for the zapatista movement, his disdain for cops, and the perils of right-wing radio all within the first ten minutes of the album, but the most powerful aspect of the album is the triptych of songs beginning with “tire me.”  easily the most musically diverse sequence throughout evil empire, de la rocha seethes commentary about 1970s foreign policy, gets downright militant about economic disparity, and supplies a first-person account of race relations in the united states.

other musicians may be defined by their political and social activism, but few can manage the variety of topics so thoroughly and effectively explored by rage against the machine.  largely devoid of profanity and slightly more subdued, evil empire conveyed this ideology in just as convincing of a manner while employing a heightened sense of musical intrigue.  that’s why, even a number of years later, the once black sheep of the band’s discography is now my first stop whenever i feel the need for a nostalgic fix.

listen to a new song from sleep party people

Sleep-Party-Peopledimestore saints consciously strives to present new music in as timely of a manner as possible, but, every once in a while, great songs inevitably fall under the radar.  sleep party people first came to my attention courtesy of my colleague at heartbreaking bravery, whose sentiments regarding the band’s newest single, “in another world,” are absolutely spot on.  brian batz’s hypnotic, melancholy falsetto vocals are one of the focal points of sleep party people’s sound, but on “in another world” they’re augmented by a haunting violin melody and groove-heavy percussion to create an incredibly ominous earworm.  check out the track below, and look for sleep party people’s new album floating, out june 2nd via blood and biscuits.

cloud nothings – here and nowhere else

when i first heard cloud nothings’ tremendous third album, attack on memory, dylan baldi’s screeches of “i thought i would be more than this” resonated incredibly with my nineteen year-old state of mind.  the album soon became the soundtrack to my 2012, its raw dissonance juxtaposed with hook-laden gems like “stay useless” and “our plans.”  still, the overall darkness in mood of attack on memory, coupled with the increased abrasiveness of instrumentation, all but erased the breezy bedroom pop aesthetic baldi had cultivated on cloud nothings’ first two records, leaving the trajectory of their subsequent output open-ended.  on here and nowhere else, baldi arrives somewhere in the middle of the two extremes, resulting in the band’s most polished sound to date.

baldi’s detractors frequently cited his sub-par vocal delivery as the band’s main pitfall throughout attack on memory, and while opinions on the effect of his raw voice are entirely subjective, it’s worth noting that his voice is unquestionably at its best on here and nowhere else.  he’s in tune and more articulate, and songs like “just see fear” have moments of sheer melodic beauty.  at the same time, baldi is even more punishing and menacing than he was on cloud nothings’ last album; guttural screams emit towards the end of “just see fear,” and the repetition of the word “swallow” on “giving into seeing” sounds tortured yet purposeful.  overall, baldi the singer is very much in the foreground of the songs on here and nowhere else, putting emphasis on the last refined element of the band’s sound.

cloud nothings slimmed down to a power trio before heading into the recording studio, but the absence of a second guitarist seems to cause no problems.  jayson gerycz is an unstoppable force of nature behind a drum kit; in the early days of the band, his presence was almost comical at times, but his relentless technique mirrors and personifies the cacophony cloud nothings has perfected.  here and nowhere else doesn’t stop for a breather throughout much of its duration, with gerycz flirting with the front of each beat and bassist t.j. dukes dutifully following his example.  the songs largely return to a more structured pop formula that aided baldi’s ascension from anonymity; “patterned walks” is the only clear outlier, drawing on the expanded structure of “wasted days,” but songs like “now here in” and “psychic trauma” are upbeat and irresistible, with only hints of the post-apocalyptic dissonance that permeated attack on memory.

baldi’s prowess as a songwriter and guitarist has only grown over time; he handles all of the six-string chores on here and nowhere else, creating a thick, distorted tone befitting of the old punk bands he frequently name-checks in various interviews.  the final song on the album, “i’m not part of me,” might just be the band’s best to date, and it’s telling that they saved it for last.  from the outset of the first chord in his progression, baldi reminds everyone of his talent, fitting a subtle melodic line into the harmony.  his voice is comparatively calm for the most part, and his proclamation of “i’m not telling you/all i’m going through” seems to echo the ethos of the entire album: the dark undertones are still there, but they’re more reserved and less prone to explicit despair and self-deprecation.  here and nowhere else doesn’t quite match attack on memory in terms of raw emotion – few records ever will – but its songs continue to sculpt baldi into a fiercely formidable presence still very much capable of writing acutely polarizing and meaningful lyrics.

9.0/10

heavy rotation: wilco – a ghost is born

wilco a ghost is born“heavy rotation” is a new monthly long-form piece designed to infuse dimestore saints with more intellectual writing.  while much of the content on this website is dedicated towards brand new and impending releases, music from previous years still carries a lot of merit.  each installment of this segment will examine an album that has been listened to frequently over the past month.  i’ll try my best not to ramble.

my musical relationship with wilco is rather new.  i’ve owned yankee hotel foxtrot for years, as i considered it to be a part of the early twenty-first century’s pantheon of indie rock, but i was never enamored by it, and i never felt a strong emotional connection to it.  i guess that doesn’t really surprise me; it takes quite a bit for a body of music to resonate with me on that level, but i’m still able of recognizing and appreciating immensely talented musicians when i hear them.  the culture of blind acceptance surrounding that record was always – and still is – quite off-putting to me; it joined the company of neutral milk hotel’s in an aeroplane over the sea, radiohead’s kid a, and arcade fire’s funeral, becoming a blindingly accepted need-to-know classic.  for the record, i adore neutral milk hotel, rank ok computer and in rainbows as my two favorite radiohead albums, and have honestly never caught the arcade fire fever, although i did enjoy neon bible.  knowing that my personal variance in taste did not comply with what was becoming standard in certain cultures who fancied themselves experts on the genesis of indie rock, i was hesitant to approach yankee hotel foxtrot, or even wilco’s discography in general, for that matter.

last summer, one of my roommates bought a copy of the whole love.  as i heard that record spinning on the turntable in our living room, something triggered the resurgence of the wilco bug: a feeling i had always felt somewhat impure for never having up until that point.  in all honesty, it was probably nels cline’s guitar solo in “art of almost,” but it got me listening again.  after digesting the band’s most current offering, i felt it wise to revisit the magnum opus i had long been suspicious of.  sure enough, the umpteenth time was the charm, or so goes my version of the saying.  i wasn’t ready to accept the album as the unblemished piece of porcelain perfection certain publications made it out to be, but i could concede to its influential nature and could certainly appreciate its musical nuances more so than i was able to at the age of sixteen.  my waning skepticism and waxing intrigue progressed, over the next few months, to a point where i couldn’t pass up a “used” copy of wilco’s 2004 album a ghost is born when i saw it at a record shop last month.

i put “used” in quotations because i’m convinced that, apart from the external packaging being removed, the album was never touched.  if you still remember cds, you’ll recall the slightly resistant metallic click that occurs when a disc is removed from its casing for the first time; hearing that noise was unexpected but welcomed, because i can’t complain about getting a brand new record for five dollars.  after praying that my computer wouldn’t ingest the disc while i burned it onto my itunes, i put a ghost is born on my iphone, plugged in my headphones, and started listening.

the sense of urgency across a ghost is born is apparent from the first soulful guitar interjections on “at least that’s what you said.”  as they transform into a tortured, forlorn solo before finally burning out, they also succeed in evoking the first sustained emotion i’ve ever experienced while listening to wilco.  those emotions really get contextualized after doing a bit of research and learning about jeff tweedy’s tumultuous personal life during this time, and he channels those issues in his first true foray into playing lead guitar for wilco.  slow-burning, introspective a-side cuts like “hell is chrome” and “muzzle of bees” reflect the sentiment attributed to the record, but i think tweedy’s capacity to create a bonafide rock album in spite of an available emotive crutch is equally noteworthy.

a song like “spiders (kidsmoke),” clocking in at nearly eleven minutes, inevitably carries the possibility of being a derivative jam that causes an album to lose its focus early on.  it’s pulsating dance groove doesn’t exactly immediately plead its case for consideration, but the overall structure of “spiders (kidsmoke)” is imperative to the subsequent tone of a ghost is born.  the first third of the song is comparatively subdued; flying under the radar is what tweedy does best, and he’s able to deliver some of his signature off-kilter lyrics before the texture of instrumentation gets too thick.  when the main riff finally kicks in around the four-minute mark, it’s bolstered by an acoustic piano timbre that recalls “hell is chrome” and foreshadows “hummingbird.”  when chord qualities change three minutes later the harmonic shift is again led by the piano, further underscoring its importance to the timbre and overall direction of the record, and the counter-melody that alters the main riff just before the song ends is attributed to the piano as well.  for someone who relied so heavily on the acoustic guitar to create his first heavily-lauded body of work, tweedy’s abandonment of it as a rhythmic tool is curious, but it’s also what makes a ghost is born such a singular offering in the band’s discography.

even the mid-tempo songs in the middle of the album, ones like “wishful thinking” and “company in my back” that wouldn’t feel out of place in a yankee hotel foxtrot setting, don’t fall back on that proven formula; if anything, they flip the formula on its head and use the stringed instruments purely for color while the piano mindlessly dictates the rhythm of the song.  somehow, all of this resonates deeply with me.  the somber opening and cataclysmic guitar solo in “at least that’s what you said” leave all subsequent tracks open to a wide variety of possibilities, most of which wind up being covered.  there’s the brief, reckless abandon of “i’m a wheel,” the tongue-in-cheek lyrical nature of “the late greats,” and the ambient, quarter-hour doozy “less than you think,” which is a supreme exercise in sound manipulation confined to a time span ideal for processing all of the antecedent tracks.

i don’t consider myself an expert on wilco, nor will i ever attempt to become one.  these are just the thoughts that have run through my brain over the course of the past month, and they’ll probably develop more coherently and cohesively as time goes on.  mental exercises like this are always good practice, even if the resulting outcome yields nothing groundbreaking.  for this one article on a ghost is born, i’m sure countless more could be written on every other album in the band’s discography, which is fantastic.  subjectivity, when not marred by baselessness, is one of the most beautiful byproducts of music.  thanks for reading, and be sure to check back around the middle of march for the second installment of “heavy rotation.”