What I've Been Listening To #1 - Summer Teeth (Slow Rhodes Version)

This is the first of what I intend to be a weekly-ish series of short posts about whatever music I'm currently listening to and/or obsessed with.

I mentioned in my Top 10 of 2020 list that I'm a sucker for demos and alternate versions, and of these things the recently released deluxe version of Wilco's Summerteeth is an absolute treasure trove. The clear standout for me is the “slow rhodes version” of the title track.

While the original fits better on the album with its colourful glossiness, Slow Rhodes may be my favorite standalone version of the song. It is both slowed down and stripped down - the arrangement being little more than drums, bass, and the electric keyboard implied by the title. It emphasizes, rather than contrasts with, the themes of loneliness and resignation in the lyrics. It's the comedown after the manic high of the original song's candy-coated instrumental break.

Jeff Tweedy's voice sounds strained and frayed at the edges giving the song a world-weary edge. I love the rawness of the “oohoo"s in the chorus, like the singer knows these parts are meant for a choir of backing singers but there's nobody else around right now.

One of my favorite little details in this song is the tone of the cymbal that rings throughout. It sounds just slightly out of place, almost like one of the pads on an electric drum kit is set to the wrong sound. Rather than blending neatly into the background it stands out in the mix creating an odd ambience that makes me think of TV-static in a nondescript hotel room.

Summer Teeth contains one of my favorite single lines of all time: “He hits snooze twice before he dies”. There's so much humor and pathos packed into those seven words. I imagine a man waking up to the grim reaper at his bedside. He somehow is able to negotiate a little extra time on Earth - but only because he wants to go back to bed. His ennui is so total that death itself is another obligation to be procrastinated. It's a whole mood, and this version of the song captures it perfectly.