Rockin' Our Turntable: Wilco

By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 27, 2011 3:20PM

2011_09_wilco_twl.jpg Wilco has found a pleasant pace the band is obviously pretty comfortable with now. Their new album, The Whole Love sees Jeff Tweedy and his crew crafting a collection consisting of pretty tight little pop rockers that will satisfy most. The band's ear for melody and their expertise in building beautiful sounding records is at its high-water point in the group's career, and hell, isn't that all their fans really want at this point? Isn't that all the band really wants?

Actually, we kind of wonder about that. While The Whole Love is filled with the type of music that will please the widest swathes of Wilco's fanbase, the opening track "Art Of Almost" shows what might have been. The current incarnation of Wilco (and we hope this is the last of the line-up changes) is an absolutely amazing live act willing to experiment and stretch the material in directions both uncomfortable and thrilling. It's a dexterous beast that works in perfect concert to create something truly visceral, even out of the band's most traditional sounding material. For instance, Summerteeth's quiet lament "Via Chicago" is transformed into a cacophonous, cathartic crescendo onstage. So we can't fathom why that chemistry isn't unleashed in the studio. It's been quite a few albums and we have yet to really hear Tweedy's supporting cast make their mark on Wilco's albums.

So back to "Art Of Almost." It's stuttering syncopation sets the mood for a long tense ride. The players wind around each other, poke and jab with odd sonic flourishes, and through it all Tweedy delivers his finest vocal performance on the album. Guitars strum and then fuzz out of focus, a crystal clear piano line jumps in just long enough to paint a few measures with a new sort of clarity, feedback ebbs and flows, strings swell; Wilco throws a million tricks into this bag and it all works wonderfully.

And then, right when you think you've reached the end of this ride and things have wound down to a pleasing conclusion, the guitar squalls up to eleven and the drums move room complicated subtlety to a crashing eruption that carries us out of the song on a tidal wave of sound you don't want to end.

And you realize that Wilco is capable of recapturing that live magic in the studio while still indulging their more experimental sonic inclinations. The raw power can be channeled. And here's what we view as the real stunner of an unanswered question; why is this song first? If "Art Of Almost" closed the album we would have exited repeated listens with the feeling of a soothing road trip through familiar lands that suddenly added with an unexpected and surprisingly rewarding left turn.

Please don't get us wrong, The Whole Love is filled with great little songs. The first single "I Might" is a great little piece of cheery pop., "Standing" features Wilco rocking out and you can already see the throngs of thirty-somethings gleefully singing along to the lyrics during a show. The quiet more introspective songs are uniformly tender and affecting. We're honestly excited to see how these songs grow onstage as the band tinkers with them, because if there's one thing that's a constant with Wilco it's that nothing is ever complete or set in stone.

In the end that's how we view The Whole Love; it's an excellent blueprint containing lots of solid structures and a few flashes of pure brilliance from a band that is still evolving even if their pace has slowed.