Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Music Review: Wilco: (the album)


"Are you under the impression this isn't your life?" begins Wilco's latest LP, entitled, Wilco: (the album). Jeff Tweedy, lead songwriter and singer for Wilco, is beginning to receive widespread notoriety. Based in Chicago, their music is rooted in the American Midwest. Formed after the break up of the pioneering alt-country band, Uncle Tupelo, Wilco has crafted some of finest music in the past two decades. Wilco: (the album) is a great starting point for anyone unfamilar with their music since it has all the best aspects of their previous work.

The band's history is not lacking in drama. In the mid 1990s they were on the vanguard of the alternate country scene, but quickly moved on. Their 1996 double album, Being There, moved them in a more classic rock direction; a retro homage to the great 1970s bands. Wilco's next project was of a collaboration with the British folk singer, Billy Bragg, of unrecorded Woody Guthrie tunes. In 1999 came Summerteeth, a departure into pure pop music. Tweedy's dark lyrics juxtaposed with Jay Bennett's heavy production redefined Wilco. The signature track, "Via Chicago," opens with the line, "I dreamed about killing you again last night and it felt all right to me," in a haunting, but beautiful journey into a nightmarish landscape.

The year 2001 brought the release of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. An instant classic, it was almost left on the shelf after their record company dropped them for being too experimental. Differences between Tweedy and Bennett led to his departure (Bennet passed away last May). Everything was captured in the documentary, I am Trying to Break your Heart, - the Let it Be of this generation. Some songs were released on the Internet that created a buzz and brought them more fans. Yankee is truly unique album that sounds traditional and futuristic. The follow up in 2004, A Ghost is Born, had a bit of everything, from the 12 minute surrealistic epic "Spiders" ( a showstopper at their concerts) and 16 minutes of drone. In 2007 came Sky Blue Sky with a revamped line up of musicians brought them back to earth after two experimental albums.

Their latest album has brought them national attention from major media outlets, including the cover of Spin. While the album lacks the controlled chaos of the Tweedy/Bennett era, the spirit is still there. Some highlights include a charming duet with Feist on "You and I," an ode to civil war conscript "I'll fight," and a parody of American nostalgia in "Sonny Feeling." Finally there is "Bull Black Nova," imagine an Edgar Allan Poe tale set to electric mayhem.

Wilco is a great live band as well, playing sets that often last 2 1/2 hours. Rumor has it they will begin recording new material in January, so fans can eagerly await which direction Tweedy will take them. Hopefully, they will keep making great music.