Release Date: Jul 16, 2015
Record label: N/A
Genre(s): Alternative Pop/Rock
'Lionel Messi completes Man City move'. 'Breaking Bad season six confirmed'. 'Oasis back catalogue erased from history'. 'Natalie Portman single and fancies you'. As headlines to wake up to go, there are few better than 'Surprise free Wilco album'. When it came to what we should expect, it’s ….
How we all love a surprise. Especially when the surprise arrives as the happy continuation of Wilco's remarkable run of albums which now stretches back over 20 years (and even further if we consider Jeff Tweedy's earlier Uncle Tupelo output). But where most bands find solace in re-treading old ground and staying on the safer side of the fence, the most exciting and invigorating aspect of Star Wars (beyond its surprise free release) is that it continues to push the sonic envelope with an unruly refusal to sit comfortably in one place for too long: the end result being a disparate and richly textured brew of sound that is arguably the band's best work in a decade.
Wilco are one of the most respected bands on the planet — paragons of good taste, masters of genre-bridging craftsmanship and chill independence. Considering that heavy rep, it's strange to think that when Jeff Tweedy put together Wilco's first lineup 20 years ago, their loose bar-band vibe was a defiant response to the weighty myth he'd shouldered as a member of alt-country pioneers Uncle Tupelo. Wilco's first album in four years recalls their early "hey, what the hell" freedom, in spirit if not in sound.
If Wilco have perhaps become a bit taken for granted in the decade following their turbulent and brilliant masterpiece A Ghost Is Born, it’s worth taking stock a little. Star Wars, released as a surprise free download through the band’s website last month and now being granted a full physical release, is the band’s ninth studio album (notwithstanding considerable line-up changes during that time), a sign of both their longevity and continued potency. If the least interesting moments on the band’s previous album (2011’s The Whole Love) felt light and summery to the point of fading into the background, Star Wars has both a spontaneity and a tautness that announce it as the band’s most exciting album in some time.
Wilco’s switcheroo with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot has become the stuff of rock ‘n’ roll lore, as it should be. Selling an album back to the company that paid you to make it in the first place seemed like a long-awaited comeuppance for conglomerate-owned labels and pretty much set the tone for music-biz chicanery in the 2000s. Less legendary but perhaps even more important is what Wilco did next: They streamed their new album for free on their website.
Wilco's 11th studio album, Star Wars, opens with "EKG," a 1:16 burst of skronky guitars that sounds like a few capable grad students imitating early Sonic Youth after a few beers, and if it seems like a goofy way to kick off the record, that's a big part of the album's charm. Wilco released Star Wars as a free download on July 16, 2015 with no advance notice (a day later, the band announced that the physical release would hit stores on August 21), and the element of surprise fits the playful, casual nature of the album. Where Wilco (The Album) and The Whole Love were enthusiastic but artful and crafted with care, Star Wars feels like an album full of experiments and happy accidents, 11 songs where the group members gathered in their rehearsal spot, rolled tape, and let their muse do what it will.
WilcoStar Wars(dBpm)Rating: 4 stars out of 5 Wilco might be about the last band you would expect to make a splashy, surprise release of an album like they did on July 16 with Star Wars. Because of the way they drop out of the sky unannounced, such albums tend to engender snap reactions from fans. Throughout their career, Wilco is perhaps the ultimate “grower” band, one whose music tends to expand and deepen upon repeated listens.
Review Summary: This is not the Wilco you're looking for.For all the dad-rock slights they receive, Wilco has always been adept at surprises. One can argue that the band has been mining a particularly refined strain of folk rock since 2007’s Sky Blue Sky, but the reality is that sequence denoted a deliberate growth that led to perhaps the finest and most complex distillation of the band’s quirky Americana in 2011’s The Whole Love. It was slow going, yes, but there was a comfort there.
Wilco has been releasing its albums for free on the Internet dating back to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, but with the 11-track Star Wars, which dropped last week as a free download, it was the first time they'd managed to keep an album's very existence a secret. The most surprising thing about the band's latest, though, is the music itself, which is by far the noisiest and most adventurous they've produced in over a decade, defiantly shattering the inarguably well-crafted but at times predictable adult-friendly folk-rock mold they've been mining since 2007's Sky Blue Sky. Because of the manner in which it was released and its astoundingly brisk running time, it's tempting to initially approach Star Wars as a toss-off for the fans rather than a fully formed follow-up to 2011's The Whole Love.
Wilco’s surprise release of their ninth album – available as a free download from their website – comes four years after 2011’s universally acclaimed The Whole Love. That set of songs saw critics the world over showering superlatives on an album that most agreed was the work of a classic American band at the peak of their powers. “With The Whole Love, they’ve finally made another album that pays off with the strength, consistency, and coherence of [2002’s much-loved] Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,” raved AllMusic, noting the way the band seemed to be “stylistically up for anything”.
Wilco gets a lot of hard-earned kudos for being one of the best bands of its generation, but it’s worth mentioning that it has also consistently proven to be one of the most interesting. This is a band that loves to keep you on pins and needles, from its insistence on sliding between genres from record to record to the clever and unique ways it finds to keep its mode of operation from running stale. The world is full of great bands, but few try so deliberately to mine some sort of magic out of everything they do.
Jeff Tweedy leads a band of escape artists—"ex-Uncle Tupelo," "alt-country," "dad rock" are all boxes from which Wilco has managed to break free. Their most recent restraint has proven trickier because it essentially translates to "Wilco". Between the self-conscious retromania of Wilco (The Album) and the self-produced, self-released The Whole Love, their last two LPs strove for comprehensiveness, containment, cohesion.
“Why release an album this way and why make it free? Well, the biggest reason, and I’m not sure we even need any others, is that it felt like it would be fun. What’s more fun than a surprise?” So posited the ever quizzical Jeff Tweedy on Wilco’s Facebook page late last tonight, just when pretty much every Wilco aficionado (especially those of us brushing our teeth before bed) was positively not expecting Wilco’s first studio album in four years to be let loose onto the internet for free. Now, rather than answer his concluding rhetorical question (let’s face it, there’s plenty of things better than a surprise and some surprises aren’t fun, i.e.
It’s now been over a decade since Wilco released A Ghost Is Born, the band’s highly anticipated follow up to its 2002 opus, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. With its nods to Krautrock and panic attack-inspired guitar freakouts, Ghost solidified the band’s mid-century reputation as one of the most adventurous mainstream rock groups in the country. So when Wilco surfaced three years later with yet another new mask (this time ’70s roots rock) for 2007’s Sky Blue Sky, many longtime fans scratched their heads at Tweedy and Co.’s newfound melodic pleasantries.
“What’s more fun than a surprise?” Jeff Tweedy wrote on Wilco’s Instagram page to announce the arrival of their very-unexpected new (and at least for a time, free) album. Well, this was definitely a surprise. It’s the first new Wilco album since 2011’s The Whole Love. But in a more abstract way, it’s the first new album Wilco has released in almost a decade.
Calling your album Star Wars, sticking a picture of a cute cat on the cover, and naming songs things such as Random Name Generator might whiff of a band’s late-life internet malaise. Not so this free album by Wilco, one of the giants of American guitar music, stealth-released a few days ago in their 20th-anniversary year. “I’m not missing what I’m giving away,” sings Jeff Tweedy on You Satellite, just one of 11 songs that strike the right attitude between experimentation and tunefulness.
Since their inception, Wilco have been defined by a sonic restlessness that has found them exploring new genres and styles on each record. It's one of their greatest strengths, but also one that has led to a persistent push and pull between band members as they try to balance melodic alt-country and their weirder, more experimental leanings. When these two pieces fall into place alongside one another, as it did best on their undeniable classic Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, it's a potent concoction that transcends the straight Americana/Uncle Tupelo mould from whence they came.
Wilco surprise-released its new album, "Star Wars," on Thursday. Wilco surprise-released its new album, "Star Wars," on Thursday. After four years of vault-emptying archival releases and scattered retrospective tours, Wilco got back to business on Thursday night and owned the Internet (music division) for a few hours. Their first album of new material since 2011 suggested the random appearance of a long-lost relative at the front door, unshaven, slouching, hands in pockets, but bearing gifts in his backpack from years of secret labor.
In a mere two and half years, the surprise album release has become a staple of the modern music industry. The proliferation of “pulling a Beyoncé” poses a frustrating conundrum for fans of today’s chart-toppers. The specter of an unannounced release encourages greater tinkering and more teasing on the artist’s part, as well as unfairly heightened expectations from the audience (we’re still waiting for the so-called R8 and SWISH).
In an email sent to Wilco’s mailing list, Jeff Tweedy characterized the band’s surprise-released record Star Wars as “a jolt of joy: a fun surprise. ” Although words such as “fun,” “joy,” and (on recent albums) “surprise” aren’t sentiments generally equated with the band’s music, his description is dead on: Star Wars is loose, dense, and deeply weird in unexpected, delightful ways. Starting with the short, discordant instrumental opener “EKG,” which recalls Sonic Youth’s maelstroms, the album doesn’t sandpaper Wilco’s coarser instincts or tendencies.
Wilco surprise-released its new album, "Star Wars," on Thursday. Wilco surprise-released its new album, "Star Wars," on Thursday.. The letters “EKG” don’t denote comfort. They’re frightening, cold and anxiety-inducing – letters that are best to be avoided. And yet that’s how Wilco opens ….
Wilco surprise dropped their ninth album for free last week, and it certainly sounds like a Wilco album: it’s got all the sonic beauty the band is known for, from razor-sharp, twitchy sound blasts to slow-blossoming rollers and many things in between, pulled together tightly with sparkling production by front man Jeff Tweedy and Tom Schick. It’s also the best Wilco album in a minute, and that’s largely due to its leanness (the run time is just over 30 minutes) and masterfully arranged pop tunes. Opener EKG kicks things off with near-unbearable noise that leaves you wondering if Star Wars was a joke release, but quickly gives way to the organic groove of More… Centrepiece You Satellite — the only tune over five minutes — features a shimmering, gorgeous swell that eases you into the record’s superior second half, and showcases songwriter Tweedy's gift for taking simple arrangements and ideas and making them feel extraordinary and heartbreaking, as he does on Taste The Ceiling and Where Do I Begin.
Flexing unconventional brawn, Wilco debuted its spontaneous ninth LP with a zero-dollar price tag. From the moment guitarist Nels Cline's madcap m.o. emerges on cantankerous instrumental opener "EKG," zany space jams betray no trace of the Chicagoans' alt.country roots. Early on, glam sing-along "More..." and playful rocker "Random Name Generator" guarantee festival appeasement, while jovial "The Joke Explained" recalls Summerteeth with its toe-tapped rockabilly.