James Iha's 2012 album Look to the Sky is the former Smashing Pumpkins guitarist's long-awaited follow-up to his 1998 debut, Let It Come Down. On his previous effort, Iha revealed a passion for '60s-influenced melodic folk and '70s-sounding soft rock. While those aural touchstones are still the core of Iha's solo work, here he delves into some light electronic flourishes that add a kind of low-key take on '80s new wave and goth. In that sense, Look to the Sky has a bit more in common with his work with the Pumpkins, and feels like he is finally owning his legacy as a '90s alt-rock pioneer. Iha himself has long championed his idols, even working with his soft rock forebears America on their 2007 comeback album, Here & Now. On Look to the Sky, Iha's songwriting celebrates an earnest, heart-on-his-sleeve quality, which is bolstered through appearances by other, similarly inclined artists, as musicians like Tinted Windows bandmate Adam Schlesinger, Television guitarist Tom Verlaine, and the Cardigans' Nina Persson add their talents to the album's late-afternoon, introspective vibe. To these ends, tracks like the plaintive "To Who Knows Where" and buoyantly melancholy "Summer Days" mix sparkling electric guitar riffs with soft-focus synth lines that bring to mind Wish-era Cure. Elsewhere, Iha keeps things melodic and personal, with tracks like the leadoff "Make Believe" and the languidly cinematic "A String of Words" drawing upon the more dreamy side of the Velvet Underground. With Iha's sweet and gentle vocal style set against tiny little bells, arpeggiated guitar, and percolating synthesizer, many of the songs here sound something like murmured lullabies sung in wistful recollection of long-lost teenage loves. Ultimately, if Let It Come Down was Iha's sun-dappled West Coast folk-rock break from the creative turmoil and personal squabbles of the Pumpkins, then Look to the Sky is his more austere, if no less captivating, look back from the sun and toward the dark moon of his alt-rock '90s past.
Look to the Sky Review
by Matt Collar