Surprise! Wilco has a new album and it’s free

17 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

WilcoAfter 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. Front man Jeff Tweedy has a simple justification for the band’s magnanimity in making the album free. “It felt like it would be fun,” he said on the band’s Facebook page. “What’s more fun than a surprise?”

It’ll take a few more listens, at least, to parse how cover image and album title link to the music, and the music itself carries its own puzzle-piece refusal to be instantly figured out. It’s difficult not to hear this album as an extension of the relaxed intimacy of the “Tweedy” debut album that Wilco singer Jeff Tweedy recorded with his son Spencer Tweedy on drums last year. At the time, Jeff Tweedy contrasted the family project to the more complex “committee” approach of recent Wilco albums, and how that led to more drawn-out recording sessions. But nothing sounds particularly labored or fussy on “Star Wars.” Many of the songs blend messy guitars, recessed vocals and deceptively off-the-cuff arrangements.

There’s nothing pristine or particularly clean about these sounds – and it’s thrilling to hear Wilco’s musicians (including virtuosos such as guitarist Nels Cline and drummer Glenn Kotche) so off-handed in their interplay, so unconcerned about how pristine or pure their tones might sound. A terse instrumental, “EKG,” makes it instantly apparent that it’s not business as usual with its skewed, distressed guitars and off-kilter drums bringing back fond memories of the late, great Chicago art-punks U.S.

Maple. “More…” swims with sighing vocals and woozy keyboards, punctuated by guitar fills that sound like cats in an alley fight, before a wave of noise overtakes everything. Low voices rumble and guitars agitate on “Random Name Generator,” all dense and menacing. “I kinda like it when I make you cry,” Tweedy sings. He adopts a Dylan-esque cadence and mirthful drawl on “The Joke Explained,” and “Your Satellite” becomes a tangle of guitars and chaotic drums. “Taste the Ceiling” offers a bit more clarity, almost a straight up folk melody, with a foreboding undertow. “Why do our disasters creep so slowly into view,” the singer asks. This album isn’t that. “Pickled Ginger” (great title that) finishes a thrilling opening rush with subterranean guitars, episodic drums and sonar-blip keyboards.

After that, the ride smooths out a bit, but the album finishes strong with a relatively subdued grace note. “Magnetized” has a quirky, baroque pop sensibility with fake strings, orchestral drumming (a nice nod to the late-Beatles era tastefulness of Ringo Starr) and what sounds like a musical saw – imagine an operatic soprano belting it out with lots of reverb.

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