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Wilco - Art of Almost
Sep 27, 2011
Total plays:
38 times
Why do we like this?
A disclaimer: I am, and have long been, a pretty raging Wilco fan. Not so raging as, say, the people I met at the front of the line at one of their shows (at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, June 2009), some of whom would discuss the ins and outs of Tweedy's genius in almost wonk-like idiot-savant terms, while clutching vinyl copies of albums on the off chance that they might get someone, anyone, to sign it (I love vinyl but carrying it around a concert? C'mon).

So I'm not that hard-core, but I love Wilco enough that I listened to their past two releases, Sky Blue Sky and Wilco (The Album) pretty repeatedly, and gave a whole-hearted attempt to convince myself that they were great. They weren't. They were perfectly adequate, listenable, pop-rock albums, but adequate is not the response one should have to Wilco. For a group of musicians as talented and as balls-out daring as they had been in the past, pithy singles verging on sunshiney bubble gum which, while not all, was much of Wilco (The Album) were a big, fat disappointment.

I'm comfortable admitting this now because I've had the time to come to terms with my own self-deceit, and because Wilco's new album, The Whole Love (the first release on their own label), once again proves the brilliance possible when musical prowess and rules-free creativity are combined. By not sticking to a formula, they approach the heights of 2004's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and similarly combine the sprawling apocalyptic with the approachable, if unexpected, pop.

Take the album's opener, "Art of Almost." The teched-out buzzing and blipping of the lengthy track suggests Radiohead,  but Jeff Tweedy's wool sweater voice adds a layer of pain, and personality that the British band could never approach. This is deep depression in the technological age, with the heart and soul of a folk song. In sharp contrast is the single-worthy swinger, "Dawned On Me," combining a rumbling guitar with cheery Tweedy's surprisingly delicate falsetto.

These tracks are two of the album's more successful; I was similarly taken by "Standing O," but uninspired by "Rising Red Lung," a sleepy folk tune that sounded like a paler version of something one would find on their 1996 album, Being There. Still, I would declare The Whole Love a triumph. It showcases serious talent -- of songwriting and of  execution -- and reflects Tweedy's refusal to be hemmed in by style, label, or genre. I won't call it a comeback, though. Regardless of less-than-brilliant releases, Wilco's presence in today's musical landscape has never been questionable.

You can stream The Whole Love on NPR's First Listen.
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