Archive for Nels Cline

Wilco’s Wildly Ambitious “The Whole Love”

Posted in Music with tags , , , , on September 4, 2011 by johnbuckley100

Years ago, when Wilco was nailing Southern rock and becoming alt.country demigods, you may not have thought of them in the same breath as The Beatles, but in late September, when they release The Whole Love on Apple Records — I mean, on their own label using Apple’s iTunes Store — you’ll see what we mean.  WilcoWorld has nicely let us stream the album in its entirety for the past 24 hours, and in a throwback to those days when one would listen to the Beatles or Stones or the Who’s new album over and over, we’ve done just that.  The player even shows a vinyl record spinning.  They have a complete understanding of what they’re doing, of the company they’re in.

“Art of Almost,” which kicks things off, might make you think of Radiohead before you’d ever get to, say, Uncle Tupelo. When Nels Cline shows off at the end, it’s not some exercise in formalism, but an embrace of rock’n’roll song extension, a throwback to those vinyl days when what was so enchanting was the way bands would leave the tape spinning as they boogied on in the studio and you wished you were a fly on the wall for that moment when, ten minutes after the song officially ended, the musicians would just, suddenly, stop.  (Sometimes you’d even hear a guitarist yell, “I’ve got blisters on me fingers!”)

We’ve been listening for weeks to “I Might,” the single, and it’s a bright bit of power pop replete with Farfisa.  And a reminder that, if Wilco can start a new album with two such different expressions of possibility, this is a band that can play anything.  And on The Whole Love, they do.

Ten years ago, when Warner Brothers was defiantly proving why record labels were willing themselves to extinction by refusing to release Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, it did seem to me that that record had taken Big Star’s Sister Lovers as its template.  You know what I mean, a big, troubled, druggy mess with enough beauty at its core that it was riveting.  An idea that was proved by I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, the documentary that illustrated why the band needed to be reformed, with the cerebral Cline replacing the late Jay Bennett as Tweedy’s instrumental foil.  On The Whole Love, the template that comes to mind is The White Album. A big statement, yes, but the melding of acoustic songs, the delving into idioms that preceded rock’n’roll, the notion of craft that transcends what any other rock band in the universe might produce – these guys don’t even have the Stones as peers, they are literally peerless — all the while clinging to sufficient pop structures that even contain hooks… Well, Wilco by now are masters, sui generis.  Except, increasingly, for invoking one band in particular… It’s not just that “Sunloathe” sounds like it could have been on Abbey Road, that Tweedy sounds like Lennon and that Cline plays his George Harrison guitar.  These guys have reached that upper echelon of rock experimentalists.  Again, ambitious like The Beatles.

We thought Wilco (The Album) was a rare letdown, a step backward after Sky Blue Sky.  It was almost as if they went to New Zealand as much to record 7 Worlds Collide as their own record.  Now, after two years of hosting their own festival showcasing their taste and side projects, they came roaring back with something bigger, stronger, more ambitious, more tuneful than anything that has come to date.  This is a band that would seem to be at the top of its form, if they also didn’t seem so ready to take things into an historic next level.  By the time you nod your head to the great album rock cut “Born Alone,” you’re ready for the grand conclusion of “One Sunday Morning,” a Dylanesque title for a Beatlesesque conclusion.  Get ready for a whole lotta loving of The Whole Love.

Tinariwen’s “Tassili” And The Columbian Exchange

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on August 24, 2011 by johnbuckley100

Next week, Tinariwen, North Africa’s greatest blues band, will release its exquisite new album, Tassili, which we have been fortunate to listen to thanks to the NPR iPad app.  The timing couldn’t be better.  You may think this is a reference to the true story that, in its earliest incarnation, Tinariwen was actually supported by Muammar Gaddafi (they sang camp songs for rebel forces that, in this case, the Colonel financed.)  It’s not.  The reference instead is to the publication last week of Charles C. Mann’s pretty incredible follow up to his bestselling book 1491, with the new one, 1493, delving deep into the Columbian Exchange, wherein seeds and spores from Africa and the Americas floated in both directions once Columbus plowed his prow into the shores of the New World.

Tinariwen play trance-like ragas that would be recognizable to Son House and Robert Johnson, long loping blues lines on multiple guitars.  The choruses (at least on previous albums) tend to be sung by village elders leading ululating women and young ‘uns as they dance around the campfire.  Actually, on the new album, the choruses sound like they’re being sung by fighters waiting to rush into Tripoli and liberate a desert country from its oppressive dictator… The point is that Tinariwen sounds like a band perched on top of a dune in the Sahara, capturing whatever music the wind carries in — from the Mississippi Delta, from India, from sub-Saharan Africa — and the result is a cross cultural revelation, gorgeous songs that synthesize a global rhythm.  It is the musical equivalent of carrying tomatoes back from the New World to Italy, of bringing sugarcane to Jamaica.  With the Columbian Exchange — the biological cross currents suturing Gondwanaland back together, at least from an ecological standpoint — the world became one again.  And so it seems when you listen to Tinariwen, and wonder how a guitar band from North Africa can sound like Stevie Ray Vaughan pickin’ tunes around the picnic table in the Texas Hill Country.

On the brilliant Tassili, Nels Cline of Wilco joins to raise a background squall on the very first song — a scirocco created by an American rocker of Danish extraction playing with his Tuareg blues brothers.  Members of TV On The Radio sing in universal harmony.  New Orleans’ Dirty Dozen Brass Band amazingly mix their horns in with licks from their North African cousins.  Who, truly, could rail against globalism when this is the result?

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