As niche, patience-testing and challenging as ever
Wilco must be a tightly-run operation, since everything else Nels Cline touches starts to sound like Share The Wealth. Even at their weirdest, the beloved Jeff Tweedy-fronted alt-country stars still had hooks and melodies, something their guitarist Nels Cline does not care about on approximately 150 albums scattered across his many side projects and collaborations. The Nels Cline Singers, not to be confused with the Nels Cline Trio and ironically named due to their lack of vocals, are the best distillation of his style, with long-winded forays into free-jazz and tons of experimental tones and structures. It’s not that he’s running out of ideas or that he’s untalented, as the accolades for his guitar work are well-earned, but the experience of listening to any one record or track starts to blur together in record time.
Do not go into Share, the seventh release from the Nels Cline Singers, expecting Wilco. There is no twang or rootsy timbre here. Flickers of bluesy guitar slip in on the opener “Segunda” or the half-way point of “The Pleather Patrol,” but the rest of the record is rooted in keys and jazzy sax that have been processed to oblivion. The overall mood is loose and airy, perfectly complimenting the cover art of an open blue peppered with clouds. Perhaps too perfectly.
Even as songs drag on and on and riffs get repeated ad nauseum, a lot of sounds are too muffled and soft to register. Everything is well-performed, of course, but the tight bass lines, guitar wizardry and smokey horns are either stretched too thin, processed into a very gauzy splurge or play second-fiddle to half-hearted electronica. “Ashcan Tresure” could have been unnerving with those tense plucks and glockenspiel clicks, until that scratching and buzzing rears its head halfway though. “Nightstand” starts promising with that opening noirish horn melody, until the middle part is nothing but whoosing and faint flickers of the guitar. The only time when the ambient approach works is “A Place On The Moon,” an effectively eerie blend of haunting notes and crackles. Here, the multitude of sounds, ranging from the tapping from Gojira’s “The Way of All Flesh” to spurtzy synths to grinding distortion, form a sum that is greater than the sum of their parts.
With an album filled with this many tones and effects, there’s bound to be a couple winners. The drumwork of Scott Amendola is easily the highlight. Even as the rest of the mix can start to crackle or gets too muffled to have a impact, every drum stick hit is felt on the insane first half of “Stump The Panel,” or the crunchy percussion against the heavenly synths on “Headdress.” The fast-paced bass and tapping over the whammy-bar noodling of “Princess Phone” that form a lively atmosphere and the most straight-forward and hermetical jazz rock track here.
There’s much to praise in the terms of the performances, but the actual experience will be too belabored for most. Share The Wealth deserves to be listened to at least once because it’s an uncompromising, almost-hostile experience that will certainly teach people something about themselves and their taste in the process.