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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