Thursday, May 31, 2007
WILCO | Sky Blue Sky | Nonesuch
Back in 1995, Wilco debuted with a modest—but satisfying—country rock album titled A.M. Ever since then, the band, whose only constant members have been songwriter/singer/guitarist Jeff Tweedy and bassist John Stirratt, consistently made adventurous artistic leaps of faith with each successive release. The band reached their apex with 2002’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, an album where Tweedy and company combined sonic experimentation with increasingly abstract lyrics. While 2004’s A Ghost Is Born found Wilco making some nods towards classic rock icons like Neil Young, the album also had some unexpected moments including the electro drone of “Spiders (Kidsmoke).”
Ironically, despite the title Sky Blue Sky, Wilco’s latest is their most grounded CD in years. With the addition of ace guitarist Nels Cline and keyboard player Pat Sansone since A Ghost Is Born, Sky Blue Sky sounds like the work of a band that has sanded down its rough edges by steady touring and performing together.
Sky Blue Sky begins with the sunny “Either Way,” which is easy listening Wilco with Cline’s precise-as-a-diamond-cutter guitar playing. Later on, “Impossible Germany” builds to an impressive guitar-drenched climax that will win the group some new jam band fans.
More effective in the songwriting department are numbers including “Sky Blue Sky” and ‘What Light.” The title track is a hushed beauty that harks back to Wilco’s Being There, while “What Light” is a surprisingly Dylan-esque country rock song. —Stuart Thornton
KINGS OF LEON | Because of the Times | RCA
Kings of Leon may be treading water. Since the band’s inception, the gang has cultivated and nearly monopolized the Southern garage-rock genre. That said, the band’s recent opening slots for U2, Pearl Jam and Bob Dylan have had some effect, because a noticeable anthemic sheen pervades Because of the Times; this gloss is actually ideal for the group. Yet, those who dismissed them as the “Southern Strokes” will likely be further repulsed by this current amalgamation.
Still, perhaps even detractors may be intrigued by the seven-minute opener “Knocked Up,” a baby-mama drama with chirping guitars and Caleb Followill’s forlorn yelps. The single “On Call” is a scintillating listen with its hazy shimmer and rolling bassline, destined to fill large, cavernous spaces. The doo-wop tinge of “True Love Way” pleasantly twists its chugging rhythm through reverb, while “Arizona” is a sweetly meditative and elegiac mid-tempo closer.
Although the group’s lyrics—never their strongest point—can still use some work (“She stole my karma oh no/ Sold it to the farmer oh no,” from “Charmer”; apparently, they paid no attention to Dylan’s lyrics), Kings of Leon have finally struck a nice balance between their garage ways and stadium aspirations. —Michael Petitti
BJÖRK | Volta | Elektra/Warner
Some might expect that after Björk’s recent underwhelming minimalist excursions, she’d give up the glitchy dabbling and make a triumphant return to more song-like structures. Not quite.
While Volta features a couple of stripped-down lullabies that find her softly whispering over what sounds like a koto recorded underwater, they seem less like fully-realized ideas than rough demo sketches. That’s true of even the more elaborately orchestrated pieces here, like the crunching opening march “Earth Intruders.”
It’s like Björk is still playing with the conventions of harmony, melody and rhythm but hasn’t yet decided exactly what to do, so in the meantime she’s issued an unconnected collection of new experiments as a progress report. Fans might find it a fascinating revelation, and Madonna will likely swipe a few ideas, while everyone else is left wondering what happened to the tunes. —Tim Perlich