Album Reviews

Tweedy – Sukierae

(dBpm) UK release date: 15 September 2014

Tweedy - Sukierae “I’ve always been low key,” professes Jeff Tweedy on Low Key, with a curious mix of self deprecation and defiance. Sukierae, titled after Tweedy’s nickname for his wife, feels like a highly personal record, to the extent that it needed to be made as a separate project rather than emerge as another Wilco album. In keeping with the sentiment of Low Key, it sometimes sounds unassuming and humble but it also has a rawness and clarity too.

Whilst those familiar with Tweedy’s work with Wilco will hardly be surprised by this album’s sound (a typical blend of traditional songwriting with more adventurous approaches to arrangement and production), it does contain some stark differences too. Tweedy has observed himself that he tends to push his voice into its upper register with Wilco. Here, he sounds a good deal more subdued and reflective, and his voice is lower and at times almost conversational.

Sukierae is not, however, a completely solo recording. Tweedy is joined here by his 18 year old son Spencer, who displays a maturity beyond his years in his approach to groove. Whilst he does not quite yet have the depth and nuance of Wilco’s Glenn Kotche, he possesses a noticeable musicality and desire to play both an active and supportive role in the songs. His skill comes furthest into the foreground on the appropriately dazzling Diamond Lights Pt 1. Unusually for what is essentially a rock recording, there is a strong sense of dialogue between singer-songwriter and drummer. Sometimes the elder Tweedy provides the barest essentials in strummed or picked acoustic guitar patters and leaves his  quietly resourceful son to provide the song’s textures and character. This relationship, both familial and musical, comes to define what is an otherwise oddly diverse and protracted listening experience (an old fashioned double album with 20 songs), lending it a profound and compelling coherence. This feels like a musical relationship that extends well beyond mere nepotism.

The album’s purposefully jarring contrasts in mood are established at the outset. Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood (no, not that one) is bitter and agitated, whilst High As Hello, more typical of the album as a whole, is a sweet tune somewhat subverted by some dissonant guitar lines. World Away is an urgent, engaging groove that deftly disguises its asymmetrical time signature. Spencer Tweedy’s presence certainly adds an energy and disruptive spirit to this music, but it is far from an immature contribution.

This music is intelligent, bittersweet and subtle. Much of its impact is drawn from sound and arrangement rather than from melody, something that allows Tweedy senior’s voice to assume its more downbeat nature. Sometimes it as if he is being absorbed within the songs. This also means that Sukeirae is not as immediate as most Wilco albums – it requires some careful navigation.

Although writing and recording began before her diagnosis, Sue Miller Tweedy’s battle with non-Hodgkins lymphoma clearly informed this album. Yet the kind of emotion on display here is not always the transparent, heart-on-sleeve kind. Instead, Sukierae somehow captures both an airy melancholy as well as some unpredictable turbulence. It is likely to be misrepresented as being closest in spirit to the breezier end of Wilco’s later work. There is a case for this in reference to the delicate but nimble waltz feel of Wait For Love or the graceful Summer Noon but it is inadequate in explaining some of the album’s strange juxtapositions or its uniquely intimate minimalism. Sukierae is a distinctive work, and it gradually reveals itself to be enthralling.

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