James Iha - Look To The Sky (Review)
Review by Jack Foley
JAMES Iha will forever be synonymous with The Smashing Pumpkins. But anyone expecting his new solo album, Look To The Sky, to share anything in common with that sound had best think again.
If anything, the LP leans more towards the sound of Graham Coxon as well as US alt-pop acts like Fountains of Wayne and Semisonic with, perhaps, a little Jack Johnson-inspired acoustica thrown in. It’s billed as a psychedelic, melodic and ultimately more textured record than the stripped back acoustics showcased on his debut, some 15 years ago.
But it’s also curiously soft. There’s nothing here with any punch. And that’s arguably disappointing for such a fiercely talented guitarist.
That said, there are some worthwhile moments and the album offers a pretty decent listen. Make Believe, the opener, is rife with hushed melodies and layered vocals, unfolding almost like a lullaby complete with glockenspiel chimes. It’s sweet, although that’s not really a word you’d expect to hear from an Iha production.
There’s a recurrent theme of escape, too, as evidenced by the sentiments of the opening song and its follow-up, To Who Knows Where, which does actually introduced a more robust sound in the guitars (albeit a soft set of vocals).
Speed Of Love has a decent acoustic-pop vibe surrounding it, albeit laced with some cheesy lyrics (“I’m travelling at the speed of love, and sooner and later I’ll be crashing”), as does Till Next Tuesday, which has a really Coxon-like sound about it, or even mainstream Blur.
And Summer Days drifts along in sedate, ear-pleasing fashion, tapping into a lazy vibe associated with just kicking back on hot summer afternoons.
The trippy tendencies alluded to in the album’s psychedelic billing are evident on the piano-backed Appetite but it’s a brief sojourn away from the sweetness that proliferates… with Dream Tonight once more tapping into a fragility of guitar sound that’s more reminiscent of Iha’s debut work than his Pumpkins days (complete with ‘70s influenced horns).
At its worst, though, the album delivers bittersweet moments such as New Year’s Day, which falls into the trap of sounding a little too twee in spite of some darker lyrics about loss.
Overall, though, Look To The Sky is deceptively charming stuff after a few listens but one that still manages to leave you pining for just one meaty riff or slice of edginess. As you can tell, I liked the album but it also left me wanting more too.
And that’s without even mentioning that Iha has worked with a lot of collaborators, from Sara Quin (of Tegan and Sara) to Karen O and Nick Zinner (of Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and Adam Schlesinger (of Fountains of Wayne).
Download picks: Make Believe, Till Next Tuesday, Summer Days, Dream Tonight