Saturday, July 18, 2015

Quick reaction to Wilco's Star Wars

Anyone of a mind that Wilco's music has become mannered, post-rehab rock for the microbrew crowd will get a shock from Star Wars, which opens with 75 seconds or so of guitar skronk ("EKG") before moving in to the fuzzy, textured "More...", in which Jeff Tweedy sings about someone who wants "...more than there is, more than exists." This new album can't provide all that of course, rather it feels like a detour back to the energy of Being There and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. The most immediately appealing track is "Random Name Generator", which celebrates "a miracle every once in awhile" and suggests that the band is content not to be what you expect but rather to continue a path of restless exploration. Star Wars also makes a strong argument for the idea that after Tweedy the most valuable member of Wilco is guitarist Nels Cline. (For more evidence, watch this.) Cline's guitar lends even the more laid-back songs ("Where Do I Begin", "Cold Slope") a sense of adventure, a feeling that the song could take off in an unexpected direction at any moment.

Star Wars is a brief album, only one song ("You Satellite") runs over 5 minutes, and its energy and looseness make me want to revisit Tweedy's Sukierae album. That project, which Tweedy made with his son Spencer, had a similar in-the-moment feeling even though Jeff Tweedy played most of the instruments himself. The words "language is losing" appear in the song "Cold Slope", and those words both summarize the album - most of the lyrics are inscrutable - and suggest a direction for Wilco in which words, sounds, studio effects, and Tweedy's natural desire not to get too comfortable could combine to create something entirely new. If that's the goal, then Star Wars is a good first step.

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