Review by Jeffrey Glenn, Photo by Andrew Hutchins
Can it really have been almost a decade already since Tweed took its first few steps into the small, tight-knit University of Delaware music scene? Memories of humble early gigs at Homegrown Cafe, Mojo Main, and Klondike Kate’s in Newark, Delaware mark a sharp contrast with the tight, road-hardened, Union Transfer-packing Tweed of today. The now-quintet has come a long way since those hazy days, honing their craft with a busy performance schedule. The streamlining of their sound is evident on Moves, their debut full-length. Tweed has always been a live performance-focused group, and their patience in waiting to release an LP has allowed them to take the time necessary to differentiate themselves from their peers, to develop their unique voice, and to learn how best to translate that voice to an effective record. This patience has paid dividends, and all that work is evident on Moves.
Running somewhat counter to Tweed’s jam band image, Moves is a relatively trim, taut set of eight songs, none of which exceed five and a half minutes, but all of which point the way to potential expansion in a live setting. The consistency and depth of the sonic palette, which draws heavily from currently in-vogue late ’70s-to-early ’80s disco and funk gestures, owes much to the production work of long-time associate Jeff Mahajan, with further production from Lotus’ Jesse Miller and mastering by Papadosio’s Anthony Thogmartin. The band’s textured arrangements, replete with vocal and instrumental hooks and pop-music ear candy, establish the vibe. Opener “Moves” conjures an immediate, spacious atmosphere, layering gated and filtered techno synths, Nile Rodgers-style rhythm guitar, and dub echo snare hits over a slinky downtempo groove, damp with reverb but not dripping. The song builds to a disco stomp in the second verse and peaks in the chorus, which addresses one of the album’s main lyrical preoccupations. Reflecting the album’s title, much of the lyrical content deals with taking big chances, making big changes, being true to oneself, and committing fully to a pursuit.
Lead single “El Sucio Grande” further develops these themes, as guitarist AJ DiBiase’s electronically affected voice croons “Ooh, I’m coming clean…got nothing left to lose. Let’s do the Big Dirty…go ‘head and light the fuse,” elongating the last word in a wry, plaintive upward lilt punctuated by a clever ticking bomb and fuse sound effect. After an interlude led by Jon Tomczak’s hooky lead synth, the song continues, “Barely scraping by the skin of my teeth, hustle every day just to make ends meet.” Later, a dubby half-time breakdown with wobbly synth bass doubled by Dan McDonald’s electric bass sets up the last chorus to cap off the album’s most infectious dance-pop number. Drummer Joe Vela’s moonlighting as disco/funk/house producer/DJ Bad Leather, as well as the band’s recent Daft Punk cover sets, are likely factors in Tweed’s deepening incorporation of club music gestures into a more conventional electronic jam palette. Indeed, the album might be effectively described as (your choice of Lotus/STS9/Disco Biscuits) meets Random Access Memories.
Although the opening trio of singles represents clear highlights, further depth and variety are to be found deeper in the tracklist. “Remember, You Forgot” summons a detached wistfulness, providing contrast with a relaxed shuffle surrounded by mid-to-uptempo stompers. “Save Yourself” (“Can’t afford to make a mistake, don’t count on catching a break…”) foregrounds the contributions of new violinist Charlie Field, formerly of the Philly-based Pet Cheetah. Throughout the record, Field’s organic articulations complement Tomczak’s crystalline synth tones, and the latter half string textures of “Save Yourself” help elevate the album’s sense of scale and scope as it comes to a close. With Moves, Tweed is hitting their stride like never before, achieving a sonic and thematic unity of vision while avoiding monotony. This is a fresh, inspired, exciting record, especially for those of us who have followed Tweed since the undergrad days. It signals a reinvigoration of the band and the electronic jam scene at large.