Wilco may have set a high water mark for experimental Americana with 2002’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and 2004’s A Ghost is Born, but frontman Jeff Tweedy has spent the intervening years slowly inching away from the abstract and obtuse elements of those LPs, in favor of more direct and explicit songwriting. WARM, his first album under his own name, marks the exceptional culmination of that approach. Written in the wake of his father’s passing, and as Tweedy enters his 50s, these deeply intimate and skeletal songs consider what it means to remain in the present, what it means to be a link in a family chain, and what it means to appreciate the joys of life even as darkness threatens to swallow us whole.
Rarely has Tweedy conveyed so much emotion with such sparse arrangements. On standout track “How Hard It is for a Desert to Die,” each vivid note of his acoustic guitar carries remarkable emotional heft. On opening track “Bombs Above,” he recounts his battle with opioid addiction in a near-whisper—“I’m taking a moment to apologize,” he sings—backed by knotted guitars and his elder son, Spencer, gently thumping the drums. Even “Let’s Go Rain,” a major-key jangle and the album’s most accessible track, utilizes its sunny melody as a foil for an allegory of total destruction, and the deception makes it all the more chilling.
On “War on War,” from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Tweedy proclaimed, with then-typical abstraction, that “You have to learn how to die / If you want to want to be alive.” Throughout WARM, he conveys his gratitude for that life with a clarity and solemnity that, finally, brings that sentiment into sharp focus. “I don’t believe in heaven,” he sings on the album’s title track. For Tweedy, heaven, and hell, are right here on earth.