Plumbiferous Media

Wilco (The Album) - Wilco

Jul 2nd 2009
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Wilco the Album - WilcoWilco
Wilco (The Album)
Score: 82

Wilco, the pop­u­lar alt/folk/country/experimental rock band, released a new album this week, Wilco (The Album). Wilco’s self-titled album is by no means its first, although its pre­vi­ous album, Sky Blue Sky was released in 2007. But even at a rate of approx­i­mate­ly one album every two years, Wilco has now released eight albums (includ­ing its 2005 live album, Kick­ing Tele­vi­sion: Live in Chica­go). And while Wilco (The Album) does­n’t match up to oth­er mem­bers of Wilco’s discog­ra­phy, for exam­ple, Yan­kee Hotel Fox­trot, this expert­ly record­ed album is cer­tain­ly not forgettable.

While Wilco (The Album) is most­ly filled with excep­tion­al­ly well craft­ed and played instru­men­tal lines, there are a few tracks that stand out, in both good lights and bad. Though the first two tracks on the album suf­fer from repet­i­tive­ness (even on three minute long tracks) and jar­ring dynam­ic changes, the qual­i­ty of the album quick­ly picks up. The fol­low­ing track, “One Wing” has a mel­low begin­ning that makes good use of rep­e­ti­tion, quick­ly mov­ing into an excel­lent­ly writ­ten main area where the (qui­et) bass not only pro­vides the need­ed foun­da­tion, but also inter­acts inter­est­ing­ly with the melody, play­ing off of the gui­tar and vocal themes.

Jeff Tweedy’s char­ac­ter­is­tic vocals are one of a hand­ful of ele­ments which have stayed con­sis­tent through­out Wilco’s four­teen year tenure. On Wilco (The Album), they’re just as well framed as expect­ed from the band’s ear­li­er work. Tweedy’s nuanced, occa­sion­al­ly sad voice has retained its deep, emo­tive qual­i­ty, along with the slight twinge and faint­ly slurred words which make it dis­tinc­tive. Tweedy’s voice is used well on Wilco, where he expert­ly spans the range between the ener­gy of “Wilco (The Song)” and the soli­tary rem­i­nis­cence of “Soli­taire.” Accom­pa­nied by occa­sion­al back­up vocal­ists (such as the excel­lent female voice on “You and I”), Tweedy’s vocals are at their best here, as both the cen­ter-point of the album and as its emo­tion­al source.

Lyri­cal­ly, Wilco focus­es on sin­gle sto­ries, vary­ing between imagery and rec­ol­lec­tion or a mix­ture of the two to cre­ate an occa­sion­al­ly con­fus­ing but always sub­lime­ly thought-pro­vok­ing nar­ra­tive. Though the album begins with the weak­er (and self-ref­er­en­tial) “Wilco (The Song),” which is more like the “son­ic shoul­der for you to cry on” described in the song than a tru­ly strong track, as well as “Deep­er Down,” a vague­ly non­sen­si­cal tale of hard­ship, Wilco redeems itself with “One Wing,” a sto­ry of sep­a­ra­tion dis­tin­guished by vivid imagery which puts Tweedy in the place of that wing, which “once belonged to a bird” and “cast a shad­ow on the world.” 

Lat­er in the album comes “Soli­taire,” arguably the best track of Wilco, which uses a beau­ti­ful­ly sor­row­ful sound to match its inher­ent soli­tude. Then there’s “Coun­try Dis­ap­peared,” which includes the seg­ment: “So every evening we can watch from above / Crush the cities like a bug / Fold our­selves into each oth­er’s guts / Turn our faces up to the sun,” which would sound fair­ly nor­mal if not for the guts. This is where Wilco excels: in cre­at­ing his­to­ries which are far enough beyond nor­mal that they become tru­ly inter­est­ing while still retain­ing enough real­i­ty to avoid becom­ing utter­ly surreal.

The two strongest tracks on Wilco are “Soli­taire” and “Ever­last­ing,” though oth­ers such as “You and I” and “I’ll Fight” prove to be close com­peti­tors. “Soli­taire,” although eas­i­ly lost among more active tracks, uses impec­ca­ble mix­ing to keep the warm gui­tar and vocal lines meld­ed per­fect­ly with the warmer bass, all of which com­bine spec­tac­u­lar­ly with the heav­i­ly con­trast­ing but some­how still fit­ting organ. “Ever­last­ing,” on the oth­er hand, ends the album with a bang. The pow­er­ful, build­ing cho­rus words – “Ever­last­ing / Every­thing” – that per­me­ate the oth­er­wise low-key track (although the per­cus­sion, most notably the snare, pro­vides a hint of ten­sion) cre­ate the most incred­i­ble sec­onds of the entire album.

On Wilco (The Album), Wilco is quin­tes­sen­tial­ly Wilco. They’ve tak­en every­thing that has made them the band they’ve become over the last four­teen years, improved on some of it, and com­bined it all. This has cre­at­ed a few excel­lent songs, a few very inter­est­ing songs like “Bull Black Nova” and “One Wing,” and at the same time a few weak­er tracks, such as the open­ing two. On Wilco (The Album), Wilco has­n’t quite reached the lev­el of inspi­ra­tion they did on Yan­kee Hotel Fox­trot, but they’ve cre­at­ed an inter­est­ing, ener­getic, and quite inspired album.

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