Jeff Tweedy is a Rock n’ Roll artist. He makes Rock n’ Roll music. He sings Rock n’ Roll songs about Rock n’ Roll subjects, plays Rock n’ Roll guitar, and sings with a husky, smoky, scratchy, Rock n’ Roll voice. He is known primarily for the great Rock n’ Roll music made with his Rock n’ Roll band, Wilco. His son, Spencer Tweedy, is an 18-year old Rock n’ Roll drummer. Together, this father and son duo are here to bring you a Rock n’ Roll record called Sukierae under their collective Rock n’ Roll last name, Tweedy.
I like Jeff Tweedy. I like the way his voice sounds the way bourbon tastes. I like his skill with a melody, and I like his ability to fearlessly traverse the forbidden hipster territory of country music. That being said, when I heard that he was making Sukierae, a 70+ minute, 20-track collaborative album with his son, I was skeptical. It felt like a father/son gimmick; giving a musician a fair chance simply because he’s the progeny of someone fairly successful in the music business. My skepticism was quickly dispatched.
Sukierae is grittier, bolder, more fun, and more interesting than it has any right to be. The opening track, “Please Don’t Let Me Be So Misunderstood,” is explosive and brief, a blast of discord over rolling drums that breezes by. It is a lean and muscular song, left in a perpetual state of unease with Jeff’s repeated refrain of “I don’t want to be so fucking boring.” From the get-go, this album proves itself to be more than just “Jamming with my dad!”
The production on this record, too, is truly excellent. It is thoughtfully put together, with warm, full-bodied instrumentation mixed for maximum impact. There’s a lot of ambient noise and sound experimentation, like the blasts of guitar on the track “I’ll Sing It,” the weirdly hissing yet compelling piano tone on “Pigeons.” However, the production shines not for of its strangeness or density but because of the way it decompresses the sound, each piece fleshed out and comprehensible in a way that guitar-focused music sometimes lacks.
Spencer Tweedy is a good, interesting drummer. At 18 years old, he already seems to have cultivated a Modest Mouse-type feel: slightly out of rhythm, deeply rooted in jazz, and always in control. This album is full of raw, hissing snares, slick, serpentine drum patterns, and some great, pounding straight ahead beats. Songs like “Diamond Light Pt. 1” would not work without Spencer’s stuttering, patient drum patterns. It’s the best track Tweedy has to offer: jagged and experimental but still melodic and playful, all rooted in the persistence of the drumming.
Jeff Tweedy, too, flexes a lot of muscles that he doesn’t get to use often. As he is usually relegated to rhythm guitar, we usually don’t get to hear him play with the dexterity that he wields on the beguiling “Honeycomb” or the jagged “World Away.” His guitar is nimble, weaving itself around corners through interesting fingerpicking, strumming patterns, and chord progressions. It’s clear that while the great lead guitar work on Wilco wasn’t necessarily played by him, Jeff Tweedy is still truly the mastermind behind his own music.
With 20 tracks of music, this album is a bit overwhelming. It is not particularly cohesive, nor does it have any melodic or thematic through-line like some of Tweedy’s finest work. But there is a bit of everything here: punk, ambient, ballad, folk, groove-heavy, bass-heavy, down-tempo, and up-tempo. Sukierae is more of a collage than anything else: tiny bits and pieces of really good songs thrown together with no true organization or connection. This is one of the album’s great strengths and great weaknesses. The lack of organization means that it can be enjoyed more casually than, say, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or Summerteeth (which, if you haven’t heard, are absolutely worth your time), but it also means that listening to the album all the way through doesn’t yield many more benefits to the listener.
Sukierae is too long-winded and overstuffed to be something truly great. But it is far, far better than it needs to be. It’s a good Rock n’ Roll record.