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Jeff Tweedy – WARM

WARM, the newest release from Jeff Tweedy (of Wilco fame), is full of well-constructed songs that warm the heart. Stemming from the genres of folk, country and blues, Tweedy explores a plethora of emotions, but never fails to uphold the ‘good vibes’ that the album represents. Simplicity is usually the key to this album’s success, with shorter songs and familiar instrumentation forming a backbone for Tweedy’s American drawl to preach over. However, the best songs, in relation to the whole album, are usually ones in which risks are taken – most notably “From Far Away”. Whilst the album is relatively solid, with experimental ideas only shining through occasionally, there is an unfortunate disconnect between the majority of the material and what could have been.

The opening cut “Bombs Above” clearly defines the sound of WARM, with a heavily panned mix, deep acoustic strumming and ebbing solo riffs creating Tweedy’s simultaneously gloomy and joyful sound. The immediate swagger of the song is striking, enabling the songwriter’s breathy and groaning voice to lament and contemplate. Bluesy riffs, via Tweedy’s gritty electric guitar, provide much of the laid-back melodies in the song. This is a staple across the rest of the album, and does allow for many interesting and improvisational sections in each song to flourish. Tweedy quietly sings “So I’m sorry,” setting off the deeply personal and emotional lyrics that overflow on WARM, for better or worse. The short track ends with a grand, layered chorus, drenched in reverb, which offsets the country vibe in an innovative and refreshing manner.

“Some Birds” is a faster and more energetic cut, yet it still implements the same instrumentation as the previous track. The matter-of-fact vocal tone and lyrics accuse birds of being “useless” and “like fists” but what these birds actually represent is up for debate. An interesting touch on the song, and a couple others, is the doubled, yelling vocals that add a raw and haunting quality to their corresponding songs through how buried they are in the mix. A scrappy solo section with dual guitars builds on the rock n roll characteristics of the track, the slight dissonance and bite of these lines helping to achieve this.

The following track “Don’t Forget” consists of some simple, straight rhythms upon which deep and detuned acoustic chords and riffing is built. The well-layered song discusses love, death, time and life, a fair effort for a three and a half minute cut. A slightly odd instrument, perhaps a slide guitar, reversed guitar or synth, makes up a short and fitting solo section. This tone also appears frequently on following tracks, with its smooth, reversed qualities adding a nice texture to the mix. The carefree and feel-good nature of WARM is consistently expressed through innocent, while perhaps ironic, lines such as “don’t forget to brush ya teeth”. This contrasts stark and brooding statements such as “we all think about dyin’,” adding a playful and humorous quality to the track.

The 6/8 sway of the five-minute “How Hard It Is For A Desert To Die” bleeds Nick Drake, although slightly more optimistic. The sombre track has a stripped-back opening, with some ambient effects being introduced to fill the track out. While very relaxed, it never really progresses into anything of interest. It is certainly still a decent song, but would have benefited from more striking changes from section to section, or being cut down in length.

Up next is “Let’s Go Rain”, which leans more towards the country genre in its instrumentation and progression, leading to a bit of a romp of a song. The most prominent feature of the song is in its chorus, a harmonised guitar on the repeated “let’s go rain”. The doubled vocals from
“Some Birds” return, adding a sing-along quality fitting for the atmosphere the song projects.

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After a slow fade out, Tweedy returns with “From Far Away”. It is a fantastic shift towards ambient textures, with synth arp, octave processed guitar and soft droning all furnishing folkier, fingerpicked chords. The drumming here is superb, with spontaneous and frenetic passages not only surpassing most technical feats on the album, but creating an exciting and interesting song.
 While the breathier vocals of Tweedy return on this track, the great layering and well-placed ambient features show a remarkable change on the album, and form one of the best songs on WARM. While it’s understandable why only one such track is found on WARM, it certainly would have been great to see further risk taking such as what is displayed on “From Far Away”.

“Having Been Is No Way To Be” essentially consists of some almost depressive rants over a few simple, and slow, two chord progressions. A heavily delayed riff adds some nice backing in the later choruses, echoing out to the horizon the sentiments of a moody Tweedy. “I’m sorry when you wake up to me” he sings, but in a more optimistic state he counters this, finally stating “I’m still here when you wake up to me”.

“The Red Brick” is a standout track that is cut awfully short, rendering it extremely lacking.
 The drop C acoustic rings out messy and muddy chords, setting out a darker track that could have been. A slightly woolly bass heralds in some anthemic drums, before the track descends into ripping distortion and noise. Had Tweedy taken his time to revel in the noisy, fuzzy mess, it may have held its own as a solid cut, however, the two minutes are simply not enough to enjoy or explore the harsh new sounds. The track fails due to the lack of commitment to an idea, which is rather unfortunate.

The six-minute closer “How Will I Find You?” focuses on three or four key lyrics, with Tweedy initially crooning these atop percussive tapping on his acoustic guitar. The song doesn’t differ in any large way from the standard set by previous tracks, with Tweedy keeping to the acoustic chords/electric noodling pattern seen across WARM. At around the halfway mark, he introduces drums, awesome harmonised vocals and some ambient twinklings, which certainly add some sparkle to the track, but fail to make it a truly great closer. While the title question is answered (‘I don’t know”) the song is rather lacklustre – and in its approach to be simplistic and stripped-back it does come off as tiring. Another scrappy solo shifts away from the crooning of Tweedy, but it does little to change the direction of this longer song.

While WARM does fall somewhat flat towards its back end, the album is still a great collection of beautifully produced tunes – ranging from folk, to blues, to many places in between and off the beaten track. It’s likely that Tweedy will continue in this direction with his solo material, and it can only be wondered if he will commit fully to any experimental ideas, or tone them down for the sake of easy-going listening.