Release Date: Sep 27, 2011
Record label: Anti
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Wilco's ace eighth album, the first released on their own label, dBpm, is a real kick in the pants. Opening song Art Of Almost - a sort of rhythmically jerky, sprawling, Radioheadesque sonic experiment that climaxes with Nels Cline's fantastically frenzied lead guitar - sets a bold, adventurous tone. (They opened with it at last week's Massey Hall show, too.) You'd barely know it was Wilco if not for Jeff Tweedy's familiar croon.
Wilco often specialize in uncomfortable comfort music: Seventies-style melodies submerged in dark, abstract sounds and cloudy emotions. But their eighth disc manages to be both upbeat and experimental – as casually chooglin' as 2007's Sky Blue Sky and as textured and expansive as Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. There are avant-guitar freakouts, roots-tuggin' jams and gold-spun pastorals like "Rising Red Lung," where Jeff Tweedy sums up the record's vibe: "I found a fix for the fits.
Review Summary: "Something sad keeps moving, so I wandered around / I fell in love with the burden, holding me down." It would have been so easy for Wilco to just fade away. No one would have begrudged them any; Yankee Hotel Foxtrot still engenders enough goodwill in the music community ten years after its release that if Jeff Tweedy decided to spend the rest of his years writing paeans to fatherhood and singing sweet, insubstantial love songs with Feist, everyone would simply nod their heads and go along with it. But what Wilco has always done best is growth, from Being There’s epic expansion of classic Americana to the unapologetic power pop of Summerteeth to A Ghost Is Born’s startling abrasive rock classicism.
With 2002's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Wilco finally shed the "that guy from Uncle Tupelo" baggage that had kept them from gaining the respect they clearly deserved, and Jeff Tweedy gained the confidence to follow his muse in previously unfamiliar directions with increasingly rewarding results. But with so much space now open to Tweedy and his collaborators, Wilco's post-YHF studio work, while often brilliant, didn't seem quite as cohesive as Being There or Summerteeth, albums that were eclectic but revealed a unified core the newer albums somehow lacked. Part of this can be chalked up to frequent lineup changes, and the group seemed to be shaking this dilemma on Wilco (The Album), the second studio set from the band's strongest lineup to date, and with The Whole Love, they've finally made another album that pays off with the strength, consistency, and coherence of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Wilco’s 2002 LP, was a gamechanger for the erstwhile country-rock group from Chicago. It’s an album born and nurtured in a crucible of deep emotional and physical pain, inter-band tension and worry over an increasingly unstable future. Uncertainty permeates the record. “I’ve got reservations about so many things / But not about you,” Jeff Tweedy famously sings on YHF’s last track, and the record’s release into the post-9/11 market seemed nearly prophetic.
Should Wilco be worried about Jeff Tweedy? The shaggy-dog singer wanted to call this album Get Well Soon, Everybody, but he could maybe take that advice himself. On his acclaimed band’s eighth studio set, he’s letting his brain run off the rails (”Dawned on Me”), popping pills (”Born Alone”), and thinking about setting the kids on fire (”I Might”), while the avant-Americana music echoes the peals of static and feedback that the longtime migraine sufferer likely hears in his head. It’s a far cry from 2009’s Wilco (The Album), on which the band’s I’m-okay-you’re-okay folk jams came on like a dad-rock mood stabilizer.
There’s a pretty amazing chunk of YouTube clips slowly making rounds around music news sites—a few doozies featuring Wilco mastermind Jeff Tweedy at a Chicago book release party performing sloppy, self-deprecating acoustic covers of Black Eyed Peas hits. His rendition of the ubiquitous schlock “I Gotta Feeling” is quite memorable on its own, but watching Tweedy (one of rock music’s most fearless and innovative spirits) carefully recite the lyrics to the Fergie-sung shitfest “My Humps” is simply a treasured moment for Earth’s absurdist time capsule. “I mix your milk with my Cocoa Puff,” Tweedy reads.
Looking back, it’s entirely possible that music critics and listeners alike put too much stock in Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. That record, hailed both as Wilco’s breakthrough (true) and an infallible slice of American-made genius (more debatable), was and is still analyzed through a decidedly distorted lens. That the album was conceived and recorded long before September 2001 was of secondary importance in the minds of many who found a deep, if accidental, profundity in Jeff Tweedy’s blurred depictions of tall shaking buildings and general human malaise.
On The Whole Love, Wilco isn’t dealing in portions or halves. As the title suggests, they’re aiming for something far more complete. To that end, the Chicago stalwarts’ eighth studio album brings to mind a more expansive version of their 1999 palate cleanser, Summerteeth, an album characterized by its big, colorful flourishes and broad emotional scope.
Jeff Tweedy's Chicago band have made a mockery of their initial pigeonholing as alt.country. On their eighth album, the typically unpredictable primary influences seem to be Nick Lowe's spiky new wave and the multitracked Beatles of Abbey Road. Then again, the single I Might could be Tom Petty guesting with Spoon. Produced so inventively that it still often feels avant garde, The Whole Love unifies Wilco's leftfield and pop sensibilities.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been ten years since the release of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Hard to believe because that album’s elegant anxiety is as relevant as ever. Hard to believe also because Wilco hasn’t fully eclipsed YHF’s classic shadow. Wilco’s past decade has hardly been disappointing; yet accusations of decline continue to dog.
Twelve minutes and four seconds. The same tempo, the same chords repeated over and over again. Acoustic guitar with some light piano touches and an unobtrusive rhythm section. Not much is happening, but everything is happening. One shouldn’t leap to such broad conclusions from only a handful of ….
In a recent interview with Men’s Journal, Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy defended the presumptive idea that their discography falls under the annals of dad rock. Accepting the label without the slightest shame, he went on to describe how those who follow that belief often misconstrue it as a prolongation of what rock used to be in its heyday. He’s right: rock music may not be the brand of choice for today’s youth, but the fact its construct continues to thrive doesn’t mean it's outside generational bounds.
As radio-friendly album openers go, ‘[b]Art Of Almost[/b]’, which kicks off Chicago stalwarts [a]Wilco[/a]’s eighth studio effort, would probably rate pretty low on the Fearne Cotton-approved Indie That Won’t Confuse Your Mum Index. While the album makes for an extended pitch into the inner realms of orchestral gravel groove, freak fuzz and krautrock, frontman Jeff Tweedy and lead guitarist Nels Cline’s swim through such possibly perilous experimental waters still manages to be decidedly melodic. Weirdness far from gallops across the dozen songs that make up the pick’n’mix bag of ‘[b]The Whole Love[/b]’ though, as the straight up alt.
It’s common to talk of constant change when it comes to Wilco, and for a while it was a tried and trusted catch-all comment to make. Constant line-up changes and stylistic jumps meant that from debut A.M. to 2004’s A Ghost Is Born, fans could expect something different from each new Wilco record. Gritty country-rock? Dark avant-pop? Rattling state-of-the-nation experimentation? You can direct people towards whatever Wilco release will float their boat.Since A Ghost Is Born however, the pace of change has slowed somewhat.
The latest Wilco album further drives home the fact that, while there would be no Wilco without leading light Jeff Tweedy, the group is hardly Tweedy-plus-accompanists. The Whole Love, their first on the band's own dBpm imprint, is a record performed by a bunch of players who are utterly comfortable in the collective skin that they shed on a regular basis. .
If you Google “American Radiohead”, you’re going to get a lot of results involving Wilco. Plenty are in reference to a Chuck Klosterman article, but most just mention it as a way to praise the band. But no one seems to be able to illuminate exactly what that means. As a matter of explaining Wilco’s approach to music, or its sound, it explains very little.
Maybe the most challenging thing about Wilco's sixth and seventh LPs-- into the formalist, featherweight Sky Blue Sky and retrospective-in-repose of Wilco (The Album)-- is just how unchallenging they were. These records seemed at times curiously unambitious, coming as they did from one of the most forward-thinking American bands of the last decade and change. Wilco made their early reputation on their creative restlessness, their ongoing identity crisis, but since 2004's A Ghost Is Born-- still, by some distance, their most difficult work-- their music's seemed something of a retreat from their early-decade boundary-shoving.
By the time a band's eighth album rolls around, listeners usually know what to expect. One of the greatest attractions of Wilco is their continual ability to wrongfoot expectations. They straddle the span between rock and leftfield hard places with the surefootedness of mountain goats. Periodically muttered-about as one of America's best current bands, they are a recombinant six-piece anchored by singer Jeff Tweedy.
When “Art of Almost” kicks off with what sounds like a high wind on an open microphone over a shuffling beat and a bubbling synth, it’s reasonable to think we’re heading back to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot territory. But the song that follows is, while not straightforward in its arrangement, a catchy, maybe even hummable tune. When the words run out, guitarist Nels Cline takes over, stretching a phrase tautly over is ambient background until the clouds burst around minute six.
Their most adventurous, confident and engaging record in years. James Skinner 2011 Since 1994 Wilco have proved themselves one of the most reliable and enjoyable bands to occupy the upper tier of indie-rock hierarchy, though recent LPs Sky Blue Sky (2007) and Wilco (The Album) (2009) might have dented their reputation somewhat as one of the most exciting. Although not bad albums by any stretch of the imagination, they rarely displayed the depth of imagination and beauty present across the group’s back catalogue, exemplified on 2002’s stunning Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
There was a feature on Flavorwire recently about The 10 Things That Are Killing Music, and one of its more salient comments was that, “It’d really be lovely if everyone’d stop trying so hard to be what they’re supposed to be, and just be themselves.” Wilco, it would be fair to say, have reached that point. They are arguably one of the few acts that have almost always followed their own inclinations, and – like Radiohead, with whom they are increasingly compared – seem willing, perhaps even impatient, to test themselves with each new release, exploring new territory while maintaining their own distinct personality. Curiously, however, The Whole Love is the sound of a band existing very much within their comfort zone.