Cosmic American Music Reviews #8 Album Of 2011: Gillian Welch – The Harrow and the Harvest

December 24, 2011

Paste Magazine:  9/10

It would be inaccurate to call The Harrow & The Harvest a concept album, but many of the songs—most notably the progressively titled “The Way It Goes,” “The Way It Will Be” and “The Way The Whole Thing Ends”—are subtly connected by themes of coming to terms with the past and finding the resolve to move on. Listening to these songs, one can hear that the eight years taken between releases has caused Gillian Welch to ruminate and pour all of her weighing up and accounting of life’s sad twists and turns into one of her best albums. The Harrow & The Harvest is simply one of the richest, most expansive roots albums to be released in some time.

The Guardian:  5/5 

And yet, on repeated listens The Harrow & the Harvest feels more mysterious than this asceticism suggests. It is replete with events alluded to, but unsung. Many of their albums are like this – carefully written to sound like folk manuscripts handed down across the ages, illuminated by Rawlings’s eloquent guitar. And yet The Harrow is especially full of drama that occurs off-camera. It is the best kind of record: one that lures you in and soothes you with harmonies and banjo, only to leave you wondering what the hell just happened.

Los Angeles Times

Long trafficking in a sometimes spare yet intricately drawn sort of Americana that could fit just as comfortably at the turn of the 20th century, their latest delivers the same deceptively simple alchemy of dustily lilting voices, vivid lyrical twists and crisp acoustic flourishes.

AVCLub:  C+,58161/

And yet The Harrow & The Harvest doesn’t seem all that substantial. It’s the perfect record for front-porch reading on a warm summer afternoon, in large part because it doesn’t command attention. At her best, Welch is never mere background music.

Folk Alley:

At first listen, The Harrow and the Harvest is a very good record, but it seems like not much has changed for Welch in the past eight years. Give it a second and third run, and the songs begin to assault you one at a time. The fourth and fifth times through, it’s a sentimental experience. But, if you keep listening, you find the disc revealing layers upon layers – a tall order for a disc which mostly just includes two voices and two stringed instruments (with an exception or two here and there).


The interplay between Welch and David Rawlings’s guitars is dazzlingly expert as they dance around the slow, melancholy beauty of Welch’s voice. There cannot be another musical duet around at the moment who are able to make two acoustic guitars and two voices produce a sound that is so subtle and yet powerful….This is American folk music at its very best.

Dusted Magazine:

Even if it fails to meet impossibly high expectations, The Harrow & The Harvest offers a handful of keepers while moving Welch and Rawlings (hopefully) past their writers’ block. Nevertheless, you can hear in these songs that this crop required backbreaking work to deliver. Here’s hoping that next time they drop the harrow and go gather some of the wild stuff growing by the creek.


 This album abandons any trace of the full band sound found on Soul Journey, which featured drums and electric guitar, and instead plucks along with the spotlight on Welch’s songwriting, Rawlings’ masterful guitar work, and their vocals that harmonize in lockstep throughout. And while Gillian’s songs are outstanding in their own right, what’s more amazing is the synthesis of these two incredible musicians and their ability to take seemingly simple folk arrangements and turn them into something awe-inspiring.

Popmatters:  9/10

The gospel according to Welch and Rawlings is one that embraces darkness alongside light, pain alongside joy, the briar as one with the rose, clear-eyed truth and hazy obfuscation. As a gathering-in of all that’s best about their duality, The Harrow & The Harvest eschews the cosmic Plough and settles instead for the blessings of a more earthly crop.




Cosmic American Music Reviews #9 Album Of 2011: Richard Buckner – Our Blood

December 23, 2011

Richard Buckner – Our Blood

Pitchfork:  8.0

The urgency you’re bound to hear in Richard Buckner‘s voice throughout Our Blood isn’t accidental. Though he’s released an album every year or two during his two-decade career, Our Blood is his first since 2006’s Meadow. Because that extended interim wasn’t intentional, it was, as you might imagine, extremely frustrating. After Meadow, Buckner stopped writing records to focus on a score for a movie that was never released; after moving to upstate New York, he worked shifts holding signs for Con Edison construction crews and assisting the Census Bureau before turning his focus back toward a proper LP. His tape machine broke, so he lost all his recordings. Then his laptop was stolen, so he lost all of his recordings again. But these restarts proved purposeful: Our Blood is the most concise, driven, and well-considered Buckner album in the last decade, his ruminative prose-poems becoming determined, last-chance exhortations.

Popmatters: 7/10

It’s indirect, sure, but puzzling out his meaning here, the way you can puzzle out the layers in the songs, is what makes Our Blood such a lasting, resonant record. Buckner established himself long ago as a songwriter of the highest order, but in this age in music—where five years between records is an eternity, maybe a career death sentence—he has grabbed our attention immediately and reminded us not only what we loved about him, but what tricks he’s learned while we weren’t paying attention.

Spin:  7/10

Brooding and oblique, Buckner’s first album in five years again seeks its pleasures in the shadows beside the bar, framed by desolate electronics far removed from the singer-songwriter’s ’90s alt-country roots.

Consequence of Sound:  3.5/5

Rooted in a blend of outlaw country, Americana, and folk, but venturing into experimental and avant garde pastures, Richard Buckner is the sort of singer-songwriter one would expect from Merge Records. This record may not be quite on the same level as his best country and experimental albums (1997′s Devotion & Doubt and 2002′s Impasse, respectively), but Old Blood offers a glimpse into the world of Richard Buckner that serves as an ideal starting point for new listeners.

AvClub: B,59763/

But the song that best embodies Our Blood is “Collusion.” “Coming up for air / from the hollow prayer,” sings Buckner under his breath as the tension between plucked strings and eerie synthesizer sucks the oxygen out of the tune. As with Buckner’s best work, though, what remains isn’t quite a vacuum; rather, it’s an afterimage, blurred and ghostly.

Paste Magazine 6.6/10

In the wake of the long string of indie rock miserabilists that have come and gone since he first released Bloomed, Buckner’s latter day understatement is refreshing in its candor and simplicity. While the album at times requires careful attention to fully attach to, it’s modestly flavored with a warmth and ease that naturally rings true.

Impose Magazine:–richard-buckner

Our Blood is difficult to listen to solely because its story has already been written: Richard Buckner is the national treasure who never gets his due. He’s so un-famous in the modern sense that he doesn’t have a Twitter account. His top-selling album, released in 1997 on a major label and widely considered his best, has scanned only 27,000 copies to date. The tour for Our Blood, though co-headlining wtih David Kilgour, takes him to venues scarcely larger than those he’s been playing since the mid-90’s. A lesser artist would have given up by now. “Someone should have told you,” he sings on the album’s “Confession”, “I guess I’m the one they warned you about.”

Dusted Magazine

These nine songs are so restless, so forlorn — in short, so Buckner-esque — that they’ll never move as many units as some other Merge bands with Canuck connections. Circumstances conspire, and history’s certainly been a queen bitch, and yet throughout it all, Richard Buckner has persevered.

Cosmic American Music Reviews #10 Album Of 2011: Wilco – The Whole Love

December 23, 2011

Spotify link: Wilco – The Whole Love

Pitchfork:  6.9/10

The best thing about The Whole Love, Wilco’s adventurous, elliptical eighth LP, is the ease with which they’ve recaptured some of that old unpredictability: From Being There through A Ghost Is Born, the band’s best work has always perched itself upon the edge of traditionalism and experimentation, and The Whole Love is the first of their albums in years not to shy away from such risks…

It took Jeff Tweedy years to get comfortable with his place in Uncle Tupelo, and a few more to truly settle into Wilco’s first act. After a few years of constant sonic flux and personnel shifts, Sky Blue Sky and Wilco (The Album) found the band feeling more resolved than ever, a consistent lineup settling into what seemed increasingly like a signature sound. But Wilco’s always seemed their most creatively surefooted atop uneven ground. So the weird, winsome Whole Love is certainly Wilco’s least consistent LP in a while, but inconsistency has its own rewards. At its best, The Whole Love finds Wilco casting aside the caution, reveling in their own contradictions.

Paste Magazine:  8.5/10

The Whole Love rewards patient listening, which isn’t exactly fashionable in 2011. In some ways, it’s the black sheep of their catalog—not as instantly catchy, not as blatantly weird, lacking an obvious sonic identity compared to their other works. Maybe they’ve run out of creative obstacles. Oh, well. It’s the sound of Wilco out to prove nothing, driven only by their desire to craft great songs. In that regard, they’ve succeeded from start to finish—given enough breathing room and a bit of perspective, The Whole Love reveals itself as their finest album since Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

The Guardian:  3/5

The Whole Love, then, is a nuanced, feel-good album full of open-endedness, laced with the kinds of observations only instruments can make fluently. It may not rank among Wilco’s boldest works. It could have done with more wig-outs. But it captures the art of the almost with both hands.

Los Angeles Times:

Not so “The Whole Love,” a 12-song effort that’s way more “Summerteeth” and “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” than more recent efforts: The band is having fun not only with sound but with structure, without sacrificing catchiness. Nearly every song contains some tangential surprise, odd hook, sonic back flip or midsong redefinition. The first single, “I Might,” sounds like ? and the Mysterians covering Radiohead and is the closest thing to a simple rock song on the record (rivaled by “Dawned on Me,” which suggests Electric Light Orchestra). “Sunloathe” is a surreal, psychedelic piano ballad carried forward by Kotche’s miscellaneous noise and layers of intricate countermelodies. “Standing O” sounds stolen from Elvis Costello’s “This Year’s Model.”

Aquarium Drunkard:

There’s a strange strength that permeates The Whole Love, even in its darkest moments. It’s the feeling of having come through a long something, and that feeling is only palpable when the length and breadth and pain of that something is fully acknowledged. We aged instantly and most of us have spent the past past ten years trying to understand what exactly just happened to a world that we thought we had under control. “I am the driver at the wheel of the horror,” Tweedy sings in “Born Alone.” “Mine eyes’ deceiving glory / I was born to die alone.” The whole of The Whole Love comes down to the rejection of that one adjective, to the steady crushing of that one flattering deception. It is the question to which Mavis Staples’ Tweedy-penned song from 2010 is the answer: You are not alone.

Popmatters:  7/10

So while some had started talking like the story of Wilco has been written, like its best days are behind it, The Whole Love proves the band is still moving forward, still changing, even if it’s not in the lofty ways we expect it to. This isn’t a return to form, nor is it an out-and-out reinvention. It’s just the new Wilco album, and like all new Wilco albums, it doesn’t sound much like what came before it. This is what makes them one of the most fascinating bands working, and The Whole Love is a new, vital shard in their splintered discography.

Prettymuchamazing:  A-

Jeff Tweedy is still trying to break your heart, and he tears it asunder with hushed brevity on “Sunloathe,” “Black Moon,” and “Open Mind,” even as he continues his (perhaps) hopeless quest for self-exorcism (“Born Alone”). The Whole Love is a quintessential Wilco album, which means it exists mostly in slow-tempo and drags on a bit too long. But love demands you forgive its failings, and The Whole Love does just that. Totally.

Spin Magazine8/10

Amiably skronky, seven-minute kitchen-sink opener “Art of Almost” aside, there is a concerted effort to mothball the experimental tangents of recent years in favor of laconic twang, organ-driven garage pop, and tempered balladry. This is not to say there aren’t moments of dissonance — “I kill my memories with a cheap disease,” goes the psych-lite lament “Sunloathe” — but now Tweedy’s showing off his journal, not his record collection. Dad’s never cooler than when he’s not trying to be.

AVClub:  B,62309/

As enjoyable as The Whole Love is—and it’s an appreciable improvement over the wan Wilco—it still has some of its predecessor’s slight, low-stakes feel. The Whole Love is an album of reliable, occasionally exceptional, but mostly just solid pleasures from a very good band that doesn’t seem interested in doing the heavy lifting it takes to be great. Wilco’s early records seemed like the product of painful deliberation and unmitigated tension, a real life-or-death proposition; The Whole Love breezes by like a sunny Saturday afternoon among best friends. Now that Wilco has finally found its comfort zone, it might be time to venture elsewhere for a change.