Wilco gets rough, risky on free new album ‘Star Wars’

19 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

CHVRCHES Plays New Tracks, Wilco Debuts Entire ‘Star Wars’ Album at Pitchfork Festival.

For a few hours on Thursday (July 16), the day before the kickoff of the 2015 Pitchfork Music Festival, it seemed as if CHVRCHES’ set would be the most “buzzworthy” performance of Friday’s lineup. In a sign of how insignificant new albums have become in today’s music industry, rock band Wilco on Thursday evening surprised fans by releasing their latest studio album without fanfare, even offering it for free on the band’s website. “Star Wars” is the Chicago-based group’s first album of new material since 2011’s “The Whole Love.” It was unexpected partly because for the past year Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy has focused on a side project, Tweedy, with his son, Spencer. After all, the Scottish trio had officially announced sophomore album, Every Open Eye, that morning, and the night before had debuted three tracks at Ottawa Bluesfest. And since the band is giving digital downloads of Star Wars away for free at WilcoWorld.net until Aug. 13, anyone who doesn’t like what came out has very little to complain about. In February, Drake surprise-dropped “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late.” Even back in 2011, Radiohead suddenly announced their next album, “The King of Limbs,” would be out imminently.

The popularity of the surprise album release—-and Wilco’s decision to offer theirs free—shows how much less album releases matter to many major artists relative to touring and other revenue streams. We do,” wrote Tweedy in a message emailed Friday by Wilco’s distributing-label partners at Anti-, who will release a CD version of the record on Aug. 21 with vinyl to follow on Nov. 27. “But this is a recommitment to the idea that music is more important to our lives.

After performing Star Wars, Wilco performed another 55 minutes of crowd-pleasers, seemingly as a thank-you to the audience for letting the band indulge in so much new music. “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” remains a jaw-dropping instrumental display, “Impossible Germany” included a devil-horns-worthy guitar solo, and at one point, Tweedy harangued the kids in the crowd for throwing glow sticks during the set. On September 17, 1991, throngs of fans lined up outside Tower Records stores in Los Angeles and New York at midnight, waiting to buy copies of Guns N’ Roses’ “Use Your Illusion” albums. In that spirit we hope you will accept this gift and if not, well, maybe next time.” Although the album opens with an eyebrow-raising snippet of instrumental math-rock deconstructionism in “EKG,” the rest generally looks to compressed T. Most encouragingly, singer Lauren Mayberry appeared far more in command onstage than when CHVRCHES was touring 2013’s The Bones of What You Believe, cracking soccer jokes and scolding Mac DeMarco, who had littered the stage with cigarette butts an hour prior to the set. Such a dynamic set was tough to follow, and even though they had a whole new album to tout instead of a handful of fresh tracks, Wilco couldn’t quite match the high bar set by CHVRCHES.

AAPL 0.86 % ’s iTunes store in 2003, effectively undermined albums: Casual music fans no longer needed to buy an entire album for $15.99 to get a song or two. There was no warning, no promotional tease, just 11 songs, a picture of a lovable white house cat and the words “Star Wars,” partly in cursive, partly not. It is as melodically generous — try erasing the mumbled refrain of “Random Name Generator” from your head — as either of those reference points ever were.

Speaking of stolen thunder, the rain that was predicted to ruin Friday never came, leading to an afternoon that was humid but not unpleasant. iLoveMakonnen FaceTime’d with his mom during a gracious performance, Mac DeMarco and Tobias Jesso Jr. offered soulful midday indie rock, shirts inspired by The Royal Tenenbaums and The Golden Girls were worn post-ironically, and HAIM was spotted soaking in the hipster haven. And this despite Star Wars’ recurring habit of letting its arrangements tumble into disarray and/or disappear into whorls of errant stoner ambience and gnarly Nels Cline guitar noise. Tweedy still gets off a couple of sad-sack numbers in the old-school “Americana”-Wilco mould in the form of “Taste the Ceiling” and “Where Do I Begin” and they’re on point, too. The top 100 North American tours generated some $1.4 billion in gross ticketing revenue in the first half of 2015, up about $400 million from the same period last year, according to the trade publication Pollstar.

More satisfying, however, are those instances when, nine albums in, Wilco still manages to surprise you by once again finding an entirely unfamiliar way of not sounding like Wilco at all. Since a once-evolving Wilco lineup solidified about a decade ago with ace drummer Glenn Kotche and L.A.’s jazzy guitar freak Nels Cline, a question has lingered: What would Wilco sound like if the band unhooked the studio shackles and cut loose instead of went for perfection? “Star Wars” is at least one answer to that query. The smashing “You Satellite,” for instance, recalls Lou Reed at his most churlish or maybe a surly Yo La Tengo in shoegaze mode, while “Magnetized” closes Star Wars on a dreamy prog-rock note reminiscent of Mercury Rev circa Deserter’s Songs. Oddities abound, be it the knotted high-pitched guitars of “The Joke Explained” or the metallic echoes of “You Satellite,” which abruptly picks up speed and then cuts out. Surprise releases present something of a dilemma for music critics—who scrambled late Thursday to offer quick-hit assessments of Wilco’s album, which is available free for a limited time on its wilcoworld.net website.

Steven Hyden, a staff writer at Grantland, tweeted a “snap judgment” that Wilco’s 11-song offering was “likably tossed-off.” In his own “quickie review,” Chicago Tribune critic Greg Kot said the album was “strange, grimy and alluring in a way that a Wilco album hasn’t been in a decade.” While the band’s recent works have been respectable, they’ve been more reassuring than revelatory. “Wilco will love you, baby,” the band proclaimed on 2009’s “Wilco (The Album).” Here, the group doesn’t seem so sure. It’s less about music as a comforting agent and more about music as a tool to reflect our tough times. “Why do our disasters creep so slowly into view?” Tweedy sings on “Taste the Ceiling.” “Pickled Ginger” is downright ferocious, sounding as if it were recorded in a gutter, complete with Kotche’s drums rattling the walls. “No one tells me how to behave,” Tweedy snaps. Nothing ever quite feels certain on “Star Wars,” an album in which one of pop-culture’s most recognizable phrases — and a 20-year-old band — is flipped into something wholly unpredictable.

Here you can write a commentary on the recording "Wilco gets rough, risky on free new album ‘Star Wars’".

* Required fields
Twitter-news
Our partners
Follow us
Contact us
Our contacts

About this site