music

Wilco (the album)

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They’ll fight for you.

x

It pains us to say that any Wilco album is not a good album, but we did not consider Sky Blue Sky a good album. One of us disliked it; the other was only somewhat enthused. What virtue Sky Blue Sky did have was that it didn’t play it safe. It was spare and stripped down, musically and lyrically. Jeff Tweedy’s lyrics were plaintive and personal. It was in many ways a one-eighty from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

The main — the only — complaint we have with Wilco (the album) is that it doesn’t take many chances. This is exactly what some of our friends have said they love about it — and there’s a lot to love. Much of the album, with a heart that beats a 70s AM vibe, feels plucked from up and down the Wilco catalog. “Sonny Feeling” is in the same rowdy spirit as Being There’s “Dreamer in My Dreams”; “You Never Know” has the sunny pop jangle of a missing track from Summerteeth. The least pleasing song on Wilco (the album) at first listen — “Bull Black Nova” — is probably its most rewarding. A Krautrock cousin of “Spiders (Kidsmoke)”, the song’s structure echoes a migraine, or panic attack, or both. It pulses insistently from the start, gaining dissonance as Nels Cline layers in bursts of guitar over Tweedy lamenting, “I can’t calm down/I can’t think.” The lyrics suggest murder. It’s a haunting song.

The way “Bull Black Nova” has grown on us is the same way the album has grown on us. It has taken us a month of steady listening, but we’ve come around on Wilco (the album). This isn’t the same band we fell in love with over a decade ago, but there’s plenty of love to go around. “You and I” is lovely, plain and simple, and Feist and Tweedy make a natural pairing. It wouldn’t surprise us that if we had gotten married in 2009 instead of 2004, wedding-goers would find it on a mix CD sandwiched neatly between Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Eels as their favor.

While not many of these songs seem destined for the Wilco canon, the album is a well-sequenced, cohesive whole. The album’s best track, “I’ll Fight,” marches on with a relentless defiance, hinting at the religious undertones of “War on War” and “A Ghost Is Born” (the song). And no matter what Erik Brueggemann says about “Wilco (the song),” we dig it. It’s goofy and catchy. We’ll welcome any iconic rock band that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

——————–

The August issue of Spin profiles Tweedy and bandmates, and it also devotes time to precocious young Spencer Tweedy, age 13, hipster in the making, professional blogger. You can peruse his thoughts at speencertweedy.com. Sample quote: “Sunburns suck! Majorly. You know what else sucks? Sleep deprivation.”

26 thoughts on “Wilco (the album)

  1. Like the blog. Spot on about WTA. Hope you’ll check out my review over at Sweet Georgia Breezes blog.

    On Sky Blue Sky – I sold my first copy, only to fall in love with it and buy it again. Only saying come back to it after a little while – it’s one of those understated treasures that totally delivers after you get over the fact that it’s not another YHF. At least that’s what I said…

  2. Maybe if you two would take some chances on your music purchases, you wouldn’t be so non-plussed and disenchanted.

    R.E.M. puts out a new album, who’s going to be first, both in the record store line AND in the disappointed blog posting…er…line? YOU!

    Why haven’t gotten Lightning Dust? And the new Reigning Sound is days away! And what about Dan Deacon!? And the Antlers?! And The Thermals??!!

    And why don’t you have Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love” yet!!!???

    You will never cease to rile me.

    1. I will always buy each new R.E.M. album within a week of release and while the newer stuff may not excite me as much as Automatic or Reckoning, there are always a few really good songs on each new album.

      R.E.M.’s career can really be broken down in the three great bands: the IRS years, Warner Bros. up until Bill Berry left, and everything since. The first two bands kicked ten different kinds of ass. The last band is still really good, and has moments of greatness, but because people have strong feelings about the first two periods of the career, the newer stuff gets shit on more than warranted. I’m willing to bet money that if Accelerate were released by a new band called The Chairs or Lion v. Fish or something like that, Pitchfork would give it a high 8.

      I would make (and win) the argument that R.E.M. is the best and most important American band of the past 30 years. The pretentiousness of advanced individuals is exhausting.

      1. This is very much in line with my thinking. That jaggoff Berry had to go and have aneurysm and then everything went downhill. I like Accelerate, but I just don’t listen to it that often. Hell, I only played Around the Sun twice before giving up. But again, I’ll buy every album until Stipe succombs to the cancer he will inevitably get. I mean, he already has the look down.

        And I’ve been arguing with a friend between R.E.M. and U2 over who is the most important band of the last 30 years for quite some time. Your labeling them as the most important “American Band” at least validates me a little bit.

        1. “American” and “Band” help with people who try to throw U2, or even Prince and Bruce Springsteen at me.

          U2 has always wanted to be the best and that has influenced their sound. They want people to love them. R.E.M. doesn’t seem to care as much about how they are received. They just put out stuff they like. I’m not saying one approach is right, that’s just how they are.

  3. Mr. Grit’s comment raises some thought-provoking questions that we’d like to throw out for discussion:

    1) Is there a shelf life for one’s musical affinities?

    1a) Are musical tastes inherently monogamous (i.e., “I love this band and will commit to them through sickness or health, thick and thin, until they write a duet with Santana and/or croak”) or promiscuous (i.e., “I am dedicated to a ‘zone’ of music, be it new or ground-breaking or a particular genre, and I will love the bands which exist in this zone up until the moment they leave it, at which time we will break up”)?

    1b) Is there a point at which one’s dedication to and/or relationship with a particular band spoils into risk-averse complacency? Another way of phrasing this would be, When do musical tastes turn flabby?

    2) What band did you love a decade ago that you still love today?

    While we are curious to hear Jerry’s response in particular, we invite everyone to chime in.

    1. Uhg. You Vores and your multi-part questions!

      But a challenge has been presented, and much like leprechaun who is mystically bound to cobble any shoe that is thrown to him, I must respond to this challenge.

      1. What a lamely general question! It depends on the band and the person. Except for metal. If you’re over 18 and are still buying Dio reissues or whatever Buckethead does, grow the hell up.

      1a. As with any healthy relationship, both need to feel the constant threat of breaking up. Nothing keeps people together more than the fear of being alone. That said, your love of a band should exist in constant tension with the fear that they will sell-out or break-up or do a Limb Bizkit collaboration. This leads to an anxiety-ridden existence, but there’s a lot of great medication these days.

      1b. Yes. Case in point: You. It happens when you confuse your taste for nostalgia. Automatic for the People may have been the soundtrack when you ruled the school in college, Ben. And you’re probably still listening to that dreck. It’s not because it’s any good (trust me, it’s not). It’s because you desperately cling to reminders of your reign as Gambier’s Top Dawg, Kenyon’s Cock of the Walk, the Prince of Pierce Hall.

      2. As you are well aware, my tastes were highly developed from an unusually young age. Most of my music choices 10 years ago were, and continue to be, spot on. I am still happily listening to the new material of Yo La Tengo, Robert Pollard, Greg Dulli, Modest Mouse, Bill Callahan, Will Oldham, Jason Molina, Stephen Malkmus, Neko Case, Gillian Welch, Mac McCaughan, Radiohead, Sonic Youth. Pretty much everyone who I lugged around campus in my Case Logic CD carrier. Except for Liz Phair, of course. She went, as birds in the fall, south.

      1. I can understand someone not loving Automatic the way I (and others on this blog) do, but I have trouble fathoming someone taking a hot dump on it as much as Mr. Grit.

        I recently picked up Chuck Kloesterman IV. His essay on advanced people made me think of you. Congratulations on your advancement.

        1. My dumps are as cold as they are calculated.

          No congratulations, or even envy, are necessary. Being so far ahead of the curve has been a tremendous burden.

          I’m curious, since we’ve never met and you’re thinking about me, how tall do you think I am?

        2. Cobble those shoes, leprechaun!

          While we’re well aware that your musical tastes were highly developed at an extraordinarily young age, might one not take issue with a few of the artists you list (aside from Liz Phair, of course)? Are you really holding your breath for the next Modest Mouse? Or the new Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks? When you only recently discovered Nicolai Dunger?

          (No, we didn’t!)

          I was unaware that I was Kenyon’s “Cock of the Walk,” much less “Gambier’s Top Dawg.” But I know for a fact you were “Philander’s Phallic Phrolic.”

          1. Yes, I am looking forward to the new Modest Mouse. You don’t think Johnny Marr breathed new life into the group?

            “Real Emotional Trash” was great! Give it another try! SM is becoming a one-man indie-style weird Grateful Dead.

            I knew about Nicolai Dunger the entire time! I played you! You walked right into my trap! HE-HAW.

            Dude, you were like Ted McGinly in Revenge of the Nerds. Everyone wanted to be you!

            Tell Andrew Cashmere I’m at least 6’1″.

            1. This is a Voreblog first! We had to adjust the maximum number of “nested” comments in order to allow for more responses along this particular thread. The max is 10, so our comment brings the tally to six. Now we’ve got a chess match on our hands: Whoever posts the tenth comment will have the final word — everyone else will appear to be stunned speechless by the final remark, unable to counter with a devastating riposte. Thus, to the casual reader’s eye, the winner of this particular argument will be quite clear. It’s like trying to be the seventh caller to win free Wilco tickets at the Aronoff Center, except the stakes are higher because eternal shame will burden he who comments ninth but not tenth.

              Of course, casual onlookers could turn the tables by inserting their own comments, thwarting Mr. Grit’s and Mr. Cashmere’s carefully laid plans. Feel the sweat trickling down the small of your back!

              Since Andrew Cashmere was unable to respond prior to us changing the settings, we will repeat in this thread his comment below:

              “6′1”? That’s pretty tall. How much do you bench?”

              Gentlemen — good luck.

              1. Mr. Leathers compares Grit/Cashmere to Hart/Michaels. I think this feud is more along the lines of Honky Tonk Man/Ultimate Warrior. Watch me take Mr. Grit’s Intercontinental Advanced Title in under 30 seconds.

                1. Wha? Are we fighting? Over whether or not R.E.M. is terrible? Or is it about my height?

                  I feel my carefully considered answers to the Vores’ multi-part query has been hi-jacked! The thoughtful discussion I initiated has been sidetracked! Anyone care what I had to say in 1a?

                  Look, Cashmere. Life is horrible. It’s a nightmarish rollercoaster that kills you by crushing you against a brick wall at the end. If you can find any joy, be it in another R.E.M. exercise in futility or or deep-fried twinkie platter, then God bless you and enjoy. I don’t want to take anything away from you.

                  1. Hmm, interesting tactic.

                    1.) You are correct, your response was hijacked. I apologize.

                    2.) I completely disagree with your response to 1a. I don’t think the best way to enjoy something is to have a constant fear in the back of your head that it is about to suck.

                    3.) Life is not horrible. Life is beautiful. I just woke up from a peaceful nap to see a rainbow spreading across the sky (this did not happen). If I woke up tomorrow and could no longer listen to R.E.M. and eat fried twinkies, it would still be beautiful.

                    4.) I win.

                    1. 1.) Apology accepted.
                      2.) You have no idea what you’re talking about! You’re going to get hurt!
                      3.) First, Vores please edit my last comment for grammar and flow. Second, life IS an unrelenting and unending parade of horrors which we are maliciously bound to suffer through. How else do you explain this?
                      4.) Looks like I’m nested comment #10. I GET THE CROWN.

                    2. 1.) I will sleep well tonight.
                      2.) That made me laugh out loud.
                      3.) I was there.
                      4.) Nested schmested. We know who the real winner is.

  4. That is a terrible song. And will never be voluntarily welcomed into my ear channels. I’m getting concerned that you keep spelling out my name in full. Especially since voreblog shows up third in a google search for me….after a painful amazon list I wrote over 10 years ago and classmates.com crap but above my Obama campaign contribution and my wedding photos and a shout out on someone’s dissertation. It’s an interesting list that is more intersting than Wilco (why I ramble) – but who the hell are all these Eric Brueggemanns?

    1. Erik B — If we have overstepped our bounds in naming you in full, we can scrub your last name out and replace it with a B.

      Our apologies.

      For everyone’s reading pleasure, this is the painful Amazon list Erik was referring to. Enjoy!

  5. I don’t care I was just trying to steer the conversation away from Wilco – success!
    I guess they’re not too painful (mu lists not Wilco) – considering I still agree with all I picked (mostly). But just try and get amazon to take something down.

  6. What the fizz?! You’re allowed only 10 nests! I call “foul” on the Vores.

    Andrew, I didn’t know you were a Juggalo. In which case, I concede defeat and I tip my hat to you and I wish you the best all the best.

  7. We have just returned from the Juggalo Festival to declare that — somehow, someway — Andrew Cashmere is the winner! We have no idea how that’s possible, because he was in fact the ELEVENTH commenter/nester on that thread! Cry “foul” all you like, Mr. Grit, but we tested it to see how many responses after ours (which was #6, as the 5’7″ comment from Mr. Cashmere was a nest within a nest) would post and it only allowed four.

    Somehow or another, Mr. Cashere has defied the laws of physics and bent the strictures of reality to his own will. Like Donald Rumsfeld, he makes his own rules.

    We hope at this point it may be possible to return to the thoughtful (and thought-provoking) responses shared above by Mr. Grit.

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