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Wilco

Wilco (The Album)

Produced by Jim Scott & Wilco

Nonesuch Records

June 30, 2009

I can remember, sometime in early spring, reading a blogger’s hilarious indie bulletin: “In other news, Wilco continues to take over the world.” Back then, before Wilco’s latest self-titled effort had even leaked, I reflected on this statement as a clear indicator of the upcoming year. Frontman Jeff Tweedy and his band of inidie-alt-folkers-whatever-you-wanna-call-ems (oh, all the genre dodging Wilco goes through) now sit close to the top of the music world, garnering steady attention ever since the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot debacle that cemented their name as true artists.

Avoiding selling out, but not burning-out (read: Tweedy’s drug addiction, and its documentary counterpart 2004’s A Ghost Is Born), the band has had its share of ups and downs. Earlier albums saw Tweedy and bassist John Stirratt playing with a constantly rotating band of musicians. Yet the band has finally found its place with a rather steady sextet configuration. Though Tweedy stands at the songwriting helm, the band’s collective voice is readily available on Wilco (The Album).

The comfort of reaching an artistic pinnacle doesn’t come without its compromises, however. The record is solid and contains a dedicated and consumable sequence of tracks, but they aren’t Wilco’s most groundbreaking work. The humorously recursive “Wilco (The Song)” kicks off the album and offers the band’s expanding fan base a “sonic shoulder to cry on.” Tweedy later told Rolling Stone that the song’s chorus “Wilco will love you baby,” is a metaphor for the solace one finds in his record collection. “You Never Know” and “I’ll Fight” are grooving, driven numbers.

But it isn’t a Wilco album without a little melancholy: “One Wing” and “Solitaire” will let you come down in between the more grounded compositions (the latter is dripping with Nels Cline’s weeping lap steel). “Deeper Down” has a start-and-stop sparseness that almost reminds me of Wilco’s classic anthem “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart,” but doesn’t deliver quite the same iconoclastic flavor. Tweedy’s poetry hasn’t necessarily reached a plateau, but diverges. Once a simultaneous master of the vague and the direct, Tweedy also opts for lucid imagery on the most recent album.

On the whole, two tracks stand out as significant stakes that provide foundation for the album. The deranged, paranoiac post-murder meltdown “Bull Black Nova” follows a man as he hides the evidence of his crime. The song echoes back to A Ghost Is Born’s “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” in it’s rhythmic integrity and textural quality, but pushes the envelope one step further with its revealing and detached lyrics. A recurring tone (sirened by several instruments) nags at the listener and propels the song forward, reminding the protagonist to stay alert and deny his guilt.

On the other side of the spectrum is “You and I,” which features Tweedy’s voice pressed against that of Feist, whom the band met at the Grammy Awards. The song is clearly an acoustic classic, and is a warm reminder that Wilco can write and perform straightforward ballads.

After repeated listens, Wilco has already grown on me. It is undeniably a Wilco album: The band successfully captured its identity onto tape. It’s a collection of outstanding music, but nothing too revolutionary. This just wasn’t the time for outrageous innovation, and luckily the band realized that. Wilco will spend the summer promoting the album and bringing life and innovation to their live sets (Tech writer Stephanie Bian witnessed it herself).

If Wilco can continue to evolve within the context of their now-cemented identity, then we’re in store for another groundbreaking record. If the band rides on its success only to churn out formulaic air, then we’ll just have to wait it out until the next Radiohead record.