Wilco has always been a welcome sight, but I’ve never particularly invested much in Jeff Tweedy and his buds—Wilco’s ninth album, Star Wars, came out last year and I totally missed it. So here’s the 10th, and I’m feeling like a fool and a pushover, because Schmilco’s a total pleasure.
Tweedy’s voice never rises much above a whisper, and Schmilco isn’t dad rock—it doesn’t rock enough to qualify—but these songs build a quiet world and swing it. Just as much as ballyhooed contempo-classical artists like Nico Mulhy, Tweedy’s a composer. When he heightens the spooky vibe of “Common Sense” by adjusting the texture, it’s like watching a stranger on the street remember something and change direction. The acoustic guitar number “Quarters” burbles along until it staggers through some portal to a passage reminiscent of early Pink Floyd, with faint, gossamer organ and pastoral electric slide guitar. The lopsided groove of “Locator” recalls a gentler Captain Beefheart without losing tension. Engaging sonic accents and cool, unexpected chords abound, and throughout, Tweedy sounds worn but not worn out, a bittersweet old soul. Schmilco is good company.
Unabashed revivalists The Limiñanas return from France with their fourth full-length, and it’s fairly in line with the first three. The band comprises Maria Limiñana and Lionel Limiñana, and the duo trades on the darker side of Jacques Dutronc and France Gall’s stripped-down ’60s French pop sounds. The Limiñanas are adept, but the challenge of formalism is to keep listeners from running back to the original source material, and there’s nothing here that matches any of their forebears’ best stuff (or their own—like the splendid early single “AF3458”). “Garden of Love” comes close, with an oddly moving mix of sweet glockenspiel and a thudding groove aided by bassist Peter Hook of New Order, but Maria’s self-consciously breathy, kiss-me-I’m-French recitation becomes tiresome. Lionel fares a bit better with Serge Gainsbourg-inflected vocalisms on the garagey psych of “Prisunic” and “Kostas,” and The Limiñanas shrewdly shake up the proceedings with several guest vocalists. But the most enjoyable song on Malamore might be the instrumental bonus track “Paradise Now,” which floats along on a dreamy two-chord bed and doesn’t seem to angle for cool points.
The Beautiful Game (Vulf)
Vulfpeck is a group of jazz nerds from L.A. by way of the University of Michigan conservatory. Actually, they’re just straight-up nerds, engineering a compression plug-in for home studio rats, commissioning an official typeface and gaming Spotify to ingeniously fund a free-ticket tour. Last year’s Thrill of the Arts showcased an exuberant rock-funk hybrid that evoked a friskier Steely Dan, as Vulfpeck simultaneously broke into jamband circles via well-received sets at festivals such as Lockn’.
The Beautiful Game continues Vulfpeck’s basic sound, and brings back vocalists from Thrill of the Arts: the wonderful Christine Hucal and the dorky, grating Antwaun Stanley. There’s actually a glut of guests on The Beautiful Game, and the album loses some focus. The material is spotty as well; some tracks feel like stunts—album opener “The Sweet Science” is a klezmer clarinet cadenza, a neat idea with, nevertheless, no apparent purpose. Other cuts feel like studies, such as “Dean Town”—the title is a riff on Jaco Pastorius’ “Teen Town,” and bassist Joe Dart aptly shows off his bountiful skills, but to clinical ends. On The Beautiful Game, Vulfpeck sounds like an incredible house band in search of a songwriter.—Nick Rubin