Wilco and Dinosaur Jr. have released new albums. So we've reviewed them for you
3/5 Wilco The sorta-eponymous seventh from the reigning Chicago rock champs is a warm, hypoallergenic bath of an album. Mellow-but-upbeat ballads and breezy midtempo rockers fill out a brief, wheel-spinning record that rehashes the past couple of releases with diminishing returns.
Among the pleasant soft rock only four tracks stand out. Unfortunately, two of them – the cheeky cheer-up ‘Wilco (The Song)’ and the saloon-piano stomper ‘You Never Know’ – mimic ’70s classics ‘Werewolves Of London’ and ‘My Sweet Lord’. The other highlights evoke the pretty experimentalism of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Not coincidentally, Jeff Tweedy’s poetry shines brightest on these as well. ‘I’m in a bull-black Chevy Nova,’ the frontman mutters with paranoia as the band evokes Steely Dan as Berlin beatniks on ‘Bull Black Nova.’
But the beautiful ‘Deeper Down’ is the real gem. ‘By the end of the bout/He was punched out/His capsized muscles shouting/Deeper down,’ sighs Tweedy with the hard-boiled poeticism of Raymond Chandler reading over a chamber ensemble. Plucks and strums tick and interlock in complicated, golden clockwork. Everything else struggles to capture the same level of detail. The conservative dad-pop framework confines Cline’s guitar in a pressure cooker. In each song, when the LA axman finally gets the chance to lay down lines, his notes trill with pent-up restlessness. The solos in ‘One Wing’ and ‘Sonny Feeling’ dart and hum like pesky mosquitoes. Can’t blame them, looking for any sign of flesh or swamp. We were hoping for brilliance. After the similarly disappointing Sky Blue Sky, Wilco seem happy to stick with merely pleasant. Brent DiCrecenzo Available at www.7digital.com or to order in stores.
4/5 Farm Since reunions are ubiquitous these days, it’s worth clarifying: what exactly should we ask of a band returning from the grave? Farm, Dinosaur Jr.’s second full-length since its original lineup re-formed in ’05, just might be the gold standard. On one hand, the album couldn’t sound less surprising; on the other, it’s hard to imagine it coming off as any more solid and enjoyable. Farm proves that there’s no shame in picking up right where you left off, as long as you do it with conviction.
Dino frontman J Mascis’s many talents have rarely been captured so vividly as they are on Farm’s first two tracks, ‘Pieces’ and ‘I Want You To Know’. Both perfectly sum up the blissfully fuzzed-out style Mascis has been honing for more than two decades. The former song deftly balances razor-sharp melodic contours with freedom-rock catharsis worthy of Neil Young while the latter takes a groovier route to grunge-pop heaven. Here and elsewhere, Mascis’s inimitable twang floats beautifully above the gritty murk.
The guitarist has never shied away from excess, and some selections here (the seven-minute-plus ballad ‘Said The People’, for example) suffer from solipsistic bloat. But a few compelling curveballs – including the surprisingly metallic ‘I Don’t Wanna Go There’ and two strong tunes by formerly estranged bassist Lou Barlow – balance out a killer set that other would-be comebackers would do well to study. Hank Shteamer Available at www.7digital.com or to order in stores.