Welcome to the “age of information” wherein my favorite band releases a new album and I get wind of it only 30 days later. I guess it’s a good thing that every three months or so in my Bandcamp perusals I make a little “Check Fire Note” marking next to all the genre stuff going on.
Anyway, perhaps of note here is that Wilco superseded Califone as my favorite band as recently as 2019 with Ode to Joy, which was an amazing, spellbinding and even disorienting textural journey. So I’m sorry to relate that this album is definitely not that — in fact, it was produced by Cate Le Bon and it pretty much sounds like a Cate Le Bon album. The songs tend to all assume about the same length of four to five minutes and saunter along with an annoying mass of obtuse, seemingly unimportant sounds, riffs and blips.
What’s perhaps even worse is that it’s “cute.” And I’m not going to get into the extracurricular activities surrounding it but it does smack of that irksome John Cusack vibe that pervaded the insufferable Cruel Country. By contrast, Ode to Joy had been a completely revelatory experience, with Tweedy battling through depression on the early dirges “Before Us” and “One and a Half Stars” before glimpsing the considerably beatific, uplifting breakthroughs of “Citizens” and “Love is Everywhere (Beware).” And sure, I’m probably commissioning some emotional malady out of one Jeff Tweedy for the sake of manifestation of artistic merit. But, I mean, that’s my job, ya know?
“Pittsburgh,” which happens to be named after one of the better American musical cities, does a singular job within Cousin of branching out into interesting emotional territory and relinquishing the tiring two-step pop bit typically associated with Le Bon’s output. On “Pittsburgh,” we find the band isolating their core affective statements by creating space and pause, the mark, of course, of confident songwriting, and also the genuineness of not having to adorn the mix with an excess of sonic appendages.
The heavy acoustic guitar combined with rustic, garage-sounding drums will remind the listener of the Star Wars/Schmilco era, which is desirable I guess for Urban Outfitters soundtrack curators, but maybe not many others. There is, however, this curious sound on closeur “Meant to Be” which is just really gorgeous and which had me glancing at the “Instrumentation” section of the Wikipedia page on this album (a section which curiously isn’t adorned with ostentatious words like “Wurlitzer” and “Vibraphone”; et. al., but rather pared down to “synthesizer”; “saxaphone”; etc.). I still have no idea what the instrument is, although equally frustrating might be that Tweedy is happy these days and writing happy songs: “Our love is meant to be”. But even if Cousin does smack of excess comfort and scant structural ambition, it’s far from a total failure and should make for a handy pocket piece in the case of those experiencing any number of sundry neat-little-piles in life.
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