James Iha: Look To the Sky
James Iha has been plenty busy since he released his first solo album in 1998.
The former Smashing Pumpkins guitarist saw that band come to a close, joined A Perfect Circle, and later started supergroup Tinted Windows, and all the while ran his own record label and produced and collaborated with many other artists.
So it’s refreshing to finally hear his new full-length LP, Look to the Sky, an album very much in keeping with what James Iha has pretty much always been about: decidedly good-natured, dreamy indie pop. And Look to the Sky’s 12 tracks are mostly inoffensive, mid-tempo pop, sweetened with colorful guitar effects, keyboards, and Iha’s still-pristine voice.
But sometimes it’s a little too inoffensive. All the songs are pleasant, and feature guest spots from a ton of notables (including Television’s Tom Verlaine, pianist Mike Garson, Nina Persson of The Cardigans, and Karen O and Nick Zinner of Yeah Yeah Yeahs), though there aren’t always hooks memorable enough to grab you for the long haul.
“To Who Knows Where” is the clear highlight, and probably does best what the album strives for – dreamy echoes and forlorn melodies, inventive guitar tones and effects, and a driving rhythm. It actually sounds distinctly mid/late 90’s, though it’s not hard to hear the 80’s influence either, and the result isn’t even overly nostalgic.
“Appetite” spices things up quite nicely too, with its warped bluesy piano swagger. It’s perhaps the album’s one curveball, and demonstrates a little-seen adventurousness in Iha’s songwriting. The synth-driven “Waves” and the spacious, low-key ballad “4th of July” are also among the album’s standouts.
I’m always willing to give James Iha the benefit of the doubt, and while Look to the Sky isn’t exactly the most engaging record, it’s still an enjoyable listen, and most likely worth hearing for anyone who wants to hear something new from a Smashing Pumpkin who isn’t Billy Corgan.