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Friday, September 23, 2011

Wilco's The Whole Love: A First Listen

Posted By on Fri, Sep 23, 2011 at 12:18 PM

click to enlarge wilco_the_whole_love.jpg

Wilco is a band that makes me hate indie rock fans. Not just because Jeff Tweedy wrote songs just fine before producer/sonic mastermind Jim O'Rourke came along, but because the fickle little bitches ran scurrying immediately after the band started guitar soloing -- sorry, "dad-rocking" -- again. Now they compare everything to A Ghost Is Born. Wilco (the Album), "boring"? That's a laugh. Just compare the frighteningly sculpted "Bull Black Nova" to token Born rock throw-out "I'm a Wheel." Assume that my thoughts on a Wilco record are about 180 degrees from what you've read about it. I was a big fan of the most recent Wilco (the Album), so maybe the band's hit its stride with this one. Let's have a listen.

Art of Almost

A walking drumbeat drops out after a minute and burbling sonics come in around Jeff Tweedy like Pink Floyd at their funkiest. Fuzz bass, synthetic thunder crashes, and various other dissonances tastefully decorate Tweedy's otherwise spare melody. But we're only three minutes in, which leaves plenty of time for a string section to swallow this up. This is the most I've ever heard bassist John Stirratt (fun fact: Wilco's only other constant besides Tweedy) shine on a Wilco song -- his groove carries a lot of the momentum. But then the song morphs again, around the five-minute mark, into something like Robert Fripp playing a punk song. Oh holy shit, at 6:10 they just rock out, guitars squealing and drums falling down stairs and all kinds of noisy shit more daring than the distant twinkle of musique concrete on "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart," the band's last opener this daring. And then it ends. Bar's set high.

I Might

Stirratt's really owning this album so far. Tweedy's sticking to spare, short bursts of melody while shit just shifts around him, even though this has lots of call-response between sung lines and a recurring cute little organ figure. Plus glockenspiel, dirtbomb fuzz guitar, and Stirratt's excellent bass marching. This is very good for the band chemistry, which didn't carry Tweedy's least song-y songs too well on A Ghost Is Born.


A minute went by before I noticed this song was even playing. Kind of a psych-cabaret-Van Dyke Parks hybrid? Very slight melody, odd chords. Not my thing really, but if it's just an interlude between more stuff like the first two songs, I could grow to respect it in context. This song isn't improved by the rhythm section or George Harrison-isms when it "kicks in" near the end, either.

Dawned on Me

A folk-rocker that reminds me of Fruit Bats. But I really wish it was Fruit Bats. The catchy chorus is fun, and the song itself is constructed well -- makes a better single than "I Might" -- but something about Tweedy's stilted delivery never works for these mildly uptempo things. It's like if "War on War" was less dreamy and had whistling. On the other hand, this album's so band-oriented that Tweedy's mostly a ghost. Song grew on me by the end.

Black Moon

One of those "boring" latter-day Wilco songs. But it actually is kind of boring. Think Brightblack Morning Light with an ego and a budget, except one that doesn't turn into Spiritualized when you add those things. The strings, give me a break.

Born Alone

Another Stirratt joint, propelled by bass with a friendly enough tune that I suppose "dad-rock" is an acceptable description. Actually, this sounds a lot like Wilco's grand alt-country superiors Old 97's, down to Glenn Kotche's cute imitation of Phillip Peeples' propulsive drumming. And the hook is guitar noise! Dads like to make noise, too.

Open Mind

A swooning country ballad, this is Wilco's bread and butter, and already better than "Black Moon," if not quite "Jesus, Etc." (I do like some of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot). Great chord changes in the hook. Maybe a little too simple, but it's nice to hear simple with this band again. In fact, when's the last time they played a swooning country ballad? I sang along on the last refrain.

Capitol City

A shuffling period piece kinda, with the occasional techno-bloop. Like "Sunloathe," this is probably an expert rendition of music I'm both unfamiliar and uninterested in. It's tightly written, which is always a good thing, and it sounds like something from Peter Buck, Scott McCaughey, and Steve Wynn's underheard new band the Baseball Project.

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Dan Weiss


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