The Autumn Defense find an even sweeter spot | Bleader

The Autumn Defense find an even sweeter spot



The Autumn Defense (John Stirratt and Pat Sansone)
  • Zoran Orlic
  • The Autumn Defense (John Stirratt and Pat Sansone)
I've always been a fan of the elegant, meticulous retro-pop of the Autumn Defense, the long-running project of Pat Sansone and John Stirratt—better known to most folks as members of Wilco. The pair craft guitar pop with clear antecedents—the Beatles, Big Star, the Zombies, Raspberries, and the Beach Boys, among others—marked by a predilection for the soothing sounds of 70s soft rock. Last month the group released its fifth album—which is probably why they titled it Fifth (Yep Roc)—and they've never sounded more assured, serving up their most consistent batch of irresistible hooks and pitch-perfect vocal harmonies yet. There's no way you'd confuse the music with anything one would consider groundbreaking, but I don't think that's what they're shooting for.

In the promotional materials for the new record Sansone says as much: "I wouldn't say we're necessarily trying to break down any walls." It's the first of the group's albums cut with the touring lineup—bassist James Haggerty, drummer Greg Wieczorek, and Chicago-based guitarist John Pirruccello; previous efforts have been made with a revolving cast of guest players. I'm not sure if that choice explains the enhanced cohesion on Fifth, but I don't find that I particularly care how they got such rewarding results. I've been mainlining the album over the last couple of days, and each spin seems to yield a new favorite—yesterday it was the soul-streaked mid-tempo gem "Calling Your Name," but today it's all about "This Thing That I've Found," a spot-on evocation of George Harrison in its gorgeously honeyed melody and sun-bathed guitar lines. You can check it out below.

I'll admit that I rarely go revisit earlier albums by the Autumn Defense, though when I have they've usually held up pretty well. But none of them have been this strong. That may not change the situation for me—aside from richly detailed arrangements, these songs aren't superdeep or complex. But as ear candy, it doesn't get much better. The band kicks off a two-night stint at Schubas this evening.

Today's playlist:

Various artists, Kassidat: Raw 45s From Morocco (Dust-to-Digital)
Tom Rainey Trio, Camino Cielo Echo (Intakt)
Sékouba "Bambino" Diabaté, The Griot's Craft (Sterns)
William Parker Orchestra, Essence of Ellington: Live in Milano (Centering)
Maya Beiser and Michael Harrison, Time Loops (Cantaloupe)