Many alternative rock lovers are familiar with the name Jeff Tweedy, the lead singer of Wilco, a band formed in Chicago twenty years ago.
However, they might not be familiar with Spencer Tweedy, Jeff Tweedy’s 18-year-old son. Spencer, who has grown up with the musical influence of his father, joined him in making what would have been Jeff’s next solo album. The album, Sukierae, confronts the difficulties of relationships in addition to the themes of death, love, and time. In the midst of the creation of the album, Sue Miller, Jeff’s wife and Spencer’s mother, was diagnosed with lymphoma. “Sukierae” is a nickname Jeff called his wife, and the father and son duo decided to dedicate this album to her. Many of the songs are reflective of her current condition and the father’s and son’s reactions to it. The album is both playful and upbeat as well as dark and somber.
Jeff told the New York Times that he “would never call [making the album] collaborating—it’s just fun…It’s rooted in sharing something that we find enjoyable to do, like sitting down with Matchbox cars or building Lego sets.”
The album was released in September while Wilco was already on tour. At one of their concerts in Port Chester, N.Y. on Oct. 30, Spencer stood backstage singing along to his father’s songs. Bopping his head up and down and smiling, it was clear that Spencer was excited to see his father perform with his band. The Tweedys are currently on tour in Europe, singing many of the 20 songs that comprise this beautiful album.
One of the most well-known songs off of Sukierae, “Summer Noon,” holds itself to the highest standards of Wilco fans. It feels reminiscent of youth and warm memories. At times it has a hopeful tone, like when Tweedy Sr. sings, “Summer noon I can always stay,” in an excited manner. The song was featured in the highly regarded film “Boyhood” that came out this past summer.
“World Away” is a much more intense song that consists of striking drum beats and might even remind the listener of The Black Keys, to an extent. The lyrics are sung in a shortened, matter-of-fact way. Jeff sings, “Out of bounds of maps crawl / over the mounds of bones / is how I came to call you lonesome / over the telephone / over the microphone.” We get a sense of a lonely loved one, or even a stranger, that the father and son might be analyzing or reflecting upon. However, as Jeff’s lyrics are often interpreted in many ways, listeners can interpret its meaning on their own.
“Wait for Love” appears to be directed towards a lover once again. The whistling in the background of the song makes it both cheery and dreamy. The duo sings, “I still wanna look in your eyes and say I’ll wait for you.” This is a stunning line and might be directed towards Mrs. Tweedy.
“Low Key” proves to have more of a naïve tone. Tweedy Sr. sings, “I’ll always be your fool/and when it looks like I don’t care/I’m just playing it cool.” This song is easy to dance to as the melody constantly jumps up and down. There are female voices in the background, which also provide a more uplifting tone.
“Pigeons” is a quieter song. The line, “Let’s sing our songs for the pigeons / as common as religion / high on high on Mt. Zion / we’re all dandelions / all dandelions,” is a lovely, powerful lyric perhaps suggesting each of our own lives might be as small as “dandelions” but we should all still “sing.”
“Nobody Dies Anymore” begins with a drumbeat that is quickly silenced by a guitar. Jeff’s voice is slow and tired at the start of the song, which sets the tone for the subject of the song. He sings, “Love every song that I know / you ask me well how so / strange I can’t defend / I love how every song ends.” This song could perhaps be about his wife. He wishes that “Nobody dies anymore / nobody dies / nobody dies.” It leaves the listener both impressed by the questioning of the subject matter and relaxed by its quiet tone.
Overall, this father and son team has created an album that incorporates both Spencer’s drum style and acoustic ideas while keeping Jeff’s poetic lyrics and originality. It is the perfect album for a long car ride, or simply for studying or hanging out with friends. On the surface, the songs are relaxing, but once one truly dissects the lyrics, the listener might never fully grasp what Tweedy is trying to say. Maybe that’s part of the album’s magic, however. It is safe to say in the words of Tweedy, “I can’t defend / I love how every song ends.” Well, we love the beginning and middle, too.
by Palmer Smith '17