I realize we’re magnetized – Jeff Tweedy
Lying half asleep in bed at 10pm last night I was leafing through my Chromebook for one more swipe through those social networks and whatnot when I get a message from my friend Mark. “Go to wilcoworld.net right now. Weird new surprise Wilco album, free download”, the message said. My sleepy, Benadryl-pickled brain quickly made my tired fingers click on the link and I was greeted by a picture of a blinking feline and the words “Wilco” and “Star Wars”. What the hell is this? I quickly downloaded the free album to my Chromebook for further investigation the following day. I couldn’t help but go to Youtube and there was the album already loaded for ear consumption. Before the Sandman kicked sand in my eyes I clicked play and was greeted with skronky guitars blaring through the tiny speakers. It sounded like Television and Mission of Burma were having it out on some greasy stage in the lower east side. I wasn’t sure if this was Wilco or just some experimental noise record, then a boxy acoustic breaks in and I think to myself “Hello Jeff.”
Well it’s now that following day and after one full listen through I feel like I’ve heard the return of one of my favorite bands.
For a few years now I’ve felt the fire and spirit of discovery and experimentation that made Wilco my favorite band and Jeff Tweedy my favorite songwriter had somewhat diminished. They never became a bad band, and to this day they have not made a bad record, but those sparks that lit the neurons in my brain from 1996 clear up to 2007 weren’t really firing like they had. I enjoy Wilco(The Album) and The Whole Love just fine, but they aren’t albums I return to all that often. Records like Summerteeth, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and especially A Ghost Is Born pretty much redefined my love of music and the long player as an art form. Hell, the whole reason I bought a turntable back in 2008 was so I could own those Wilco albums on vinyl. Every time Tweedy put and album out I was beside myself. It was an event that lasted from the time that album was released until the next one came. I was defined by those around me as a Wilco fan. If my parents saw something on TV that had something to do with Wilco they’d call me and tell me. My wife and I first saw Wilco live in 1999 opening for REM in Chicago. From that point on they were our band. They were our event. We’ve seen them more times than I can remember, honestly. Best show? Columbus, Ohio in April of 2002, one week before the release of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. They were playing these soon-to-be released, beautifully ornamented and fractured pop constructs as a four-piece(Tweedy, Stirratt, Bach, Kotche). The band was quiet, tense, filled with a nervous energy that came across as dangerous almost. It was an exhilarating experience. Worst show? I haven’t seen anything below awe-inspiring, honestly. But at the REM show we had “obstructed view” seats and had gotten there halfway through their Summerteeth-fueled set. It wasn’t their fault, just stating the facts, ma’am. What I’m trying to say here is that I have a very long history with Wilco, and the last few years with Wilco haven’t been as exciting for me personally.
So at 10pm last night I see the message from my friend, I see the awesome album cover, and I hear two songs that get me excited. Star Wars has the feeling of a band saying the hell with it, going into their studio and making short, tight, pop and rock and roll. There’s no layers of instrumentation(that are obvious, anyways), there’s no grand statements, or bountiful sonic experiments here. What is here is raw, jagged rock and heart-on-sleeve sentiment. “Taste The Ceiling” and “Magnetized” gave me chills. Probably two of the best songs the Wilco collective have recorded in 8 years. The fact that there’s six guys in the band I feel have given the last couple albums an overstuffed feeling at times. Star Wars doesn’t feel that way at all. In all honesty I had a hard time believing this was a Wilco record first time through. This feels like an album that Tweedy went in and made by himself, very much in the same spirit as last year’s most excellent father-son collective record Sukierae. But second time in and the guys start to make themselves known. Cline is in subtle mode here. There’s no explosive guitar runs this time around. He and Tweedy feel very much in groove together. Kotche and Stirratt, as always, create a pocket of groove and rhythm that allows the rest of the guys to fall in and out of the norm at any time, giving them a smooth landing strip to come back home to. I know Pat Sansone and Mikael Jorgensen are in there, doing their thing. Lots of subtle little complexities happening between the lines that those two are masters of.
Sonically, the album shares headspace with A Ghost Is Born and last year’s Sukierae. It has that dulled, mellowed 70s production that gives each layer it’s own spotlight. It’s a sound that has become what I’ve so grown to love about Wilco in the studio. They’ve long proven to be masters of the studio and with Star Wars have proven it yet again.
But really, what this is all about in the end are the songs. There are moments of shaggy, stoned rock and roll(“EKG”, “More…”, “Pickled Ginger”), and moments of down home, fractured beauty(“Taste The Ceiling”, “Magnetized”, “Where Do I Begin”); as well as some of that fun fuzzy guitar pop(“Random Name Generator”, “The Joke Explained”, “Cold Slope”). “You Satellite” is a moody, atmospheric track that moves along at its own pace. It’s the longest song at just over five minutes and at times it feels like a throwback to the days of 80s alternative. It’s reminiscent of Echo and the Bunnymen and The Church, and a great track to lose yourself in. “King Of You” feels like The Band, but a space-aged version. Tight groove and crunchy guitars with a chorus that explodes like bright happy synapses. Sound-wise, this record is a cross between Loose Fur’s Born Again In The USA, The Beatles’ White Album, Tweedy’s Sukierae, and of course everything wonderful about the magic of music.
So many more questions. That album cover…that album title…production notes…so many things I need to know. In time I’m sure these questions can and will be answered. For now I’ll say this: I feel I’ve been reunited with a long lost friend. I felt that way last year with the Tweedy record, but now I feel like I’ve come across some long lost treasure. A new lost treasure. From out of nowhere Wilco blindsided me with a beautiful piece of musical art.
First impression? Where do I begin?