Music

'Warm' Is Jeff Tweedy, Solo and Unfiltered

Wilco's de facto leader Jeff Tweedy releases his very first solo album of all-new material, and it's a quiet, powerful statement from one of America's greatest living songwriters.

Warm
Jeff Tweedy

dBpm

30 November 2018

Twenty-three years after Wilco's debut album and 28 years after the first Son Volt release, it seems odd that Jeff Tweedy is just now getting around to releasing a solo album. Truth be told, his first "official" solo album came out last year – Together at Last is technically a bona fide Tweedy album, but it was actually just an acoustic re-tooling of Wilco songs. Warm is his first solo album of all-new material.

But he's not exactly hanging out there in the breeze, devoid of musical or familial comforts. Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche sits in one track, Jeff's son Spencer – one half of his duo project "Tweedy" – plays drums on several others, and his other son Sammy contributes synths and backing vocals here and there. And while it may seem like a solo debut would be an enormous leap of faith, most if not all of Warm will be – as its title suggests – something of a security blanket for Wilco fans who treasure the words and music of its leader.

In fact, in a lot of ways, Warm comes off sounding like a collection of Wilco demo tracks. Without the angular guitar slashing of Nels Cline, the well-rounded instrumentation of utility player Pat Sansone, the skillful keyboards of Mikael Jorgenson, what you're left with is a modest selection of songs by Wilco's primary songwriter. With this comes plenty of open, honest songs that occasionally skirt areas of abstract poetry – one of Tweedy's many lyrical strengths – but more often than not are simple yet eloquent statements from a man in his early 50s with a family and a relatively stable home life. In his new memoir, Let's Go (So We Can Get Back), published earlier this month, Tweedy describes Warm's songs as "some of the most direct, personal and autobiographical that I've ever written".

On the easygoing, twangy "Bombs Above", Tweedy gets confessional right off the bat: "All my life / I've played a part / In the bombs above / The ones you love / I'm taking a moment to apologize / I should've done more / To stop the war." He could be talking about his past struggles with a variety of vices, how a life of touring can wreak havoc on the home front, or perhaps it's something more personal to which none of us are privy.

Throughout Warm, there's a somewhat low-key approach to the music that has made its presence known throughout Wilco's career, particularly on recent albums like 2016's Schmilco. Gone, for the most part, is the more overt experimentalism of his Jim O'Rourke-related side project Loose Fur, or Wilco albums like Star Wars or Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Often, Tweedy seems to be channeling a more sedate singer/songwriter vibe reminiscent of early Neil Young. When the tempo picks up on "Some Birds", the acoustic guitar shuffles wistfully alongside understated countrified electric leads. "I don't think I should add one to the sum of all that you fear," he sings reassuringly in the chorus, but can't resist a touch of morbidity: "Is it my fault the countrysides are so full of suicide?"

While Warm can evoke the feel of calm introversion, things occasionally get a little jauntier. "Let's Go Rain" is a fun, gentle singalong that seems to address Tweedy's feelings toward religious faith with a song-length Noah's Ark reference. But he often feels more at ease letting a smidgen of sonic blips and idiosyncratic production into the mix. "From Far Away" incorporates some of the noise beds reminiscent of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, which meshes nicely with Spencer's complex start/stop drumming. Additionally, "How Hard It Is For a Desert to Die" is a bit of an odd duck in that it's arranged in an unhurried, almost whisper-quiet manner. The drums provide minimalist backing with soft, lyrical pedal steel stepping gingerly around Tweedy's lyrics: "I hear your laugh in my laughter / An old photograph I've never seen." While the album was recorded in Wilco's custom Chicago studio, the Loft, this particular song sounds almost as if it was tracked in an apartment with amps turned down and drums muffled so as not to disturb the neighbors. It's an unusual but disarmingly beautiful five minutes.

The intersection of power pop and alt-country is an area where Tweedy seems to thrive, and the head-bobbing twang of "I Know What It's Like" fits the bill nicely, as does the somewhat more bluesy "Having Been Is No Way to Be", with straightforward lyrical moments like "Shining steady like a spider web / Is an empty stage / Now people say / What drugs did you take / And Why don't you start taking them again." Some arty electric guitar touches give the song the feel of an outtake from A Ghost Is Born.

Befitting an artist of Tweedy's stature, author George Saunders (whose celebrated experimental novel Lincoln in the Bardo won the 2017 Man Booker Prize) contributes liner notes to Warm. In the notes, Saunders calls Tweedy "our great, wry, American consolation poet", a description that seems both lovingly thought-out and incredibly apt. "Rock stars" often seem untouchable and vaguely hostile. Tweedy, with his wife, sons, and regular-guy affability, is one of us. When he sings, he doesn't seem to be singing from some ivory tower. And when stripped of the confines of a band dynamic, that relatability is even more naked and genuine. Warm is Tweedy unfiltered, a gift that begs to be shared.

8

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Music

The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.

Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.