Thursday, May 28, 2009

Wilco (The Album)

It leaked and of course we all knew that it would, just as we all knew that Wilco would then put it up on their website to stream it for their fans for free, becase, hey, all things will leak so what's the point in pretending like it isn't out there.

I will go on the record as calling Wilco my favorite band. As the definitions of my identity thin in possibility to those I know as I continue to grow older and be defined my choices and sensibilities, I can see now, that when being referred to as a friend or enemy or lover and most importantly an object, that my favorite band will be easily identified as Wilco. And you know what the beauty of this new Wilco album is? They already know that.

See the thing about a Wilco album is that it never sounds like any other Wilco album. Sure there are the binding qualities of Tweedy's voice, and the history arising out of alt-country that either allows you to see them tieing back to their roots or emphasizing their departure from them, but besides that, nothing stays the same from album to album. No tone is the same, no theme, nothing.

I won't go into album history here, because if you are reading this blog, you probably already know the album history. So I am going to jump into the newest album. Wilco (The Album).

We jump in with Wilco (The Song), which is probably the song that I have felt the strongest about in a long time, because it easily could have been written by any band about any band. Tweedy completely removes the subject from a song with a totally subjective title. This song is about the music of a band who encourages the listener to put on their headphones and listen to an album when things aren't going right. There is nothing marking Wilco out from any other band nothing that makes this song need to be called Wilco the song, it is simply called Wilco the song because it is. The only thing missing from this song is a refrain of the chorus where Tweedy simply goes, "Blah Blah, Blah Blah, will always love you." A friend of mine said to me in response, "Isn't that a bit obvious?" My response is that so was "Birthday." An obvious song does not make a bad song, sometimes an obvious song is neccessary to make us see how much we make of the particulars that make our music seem so special to US when really it is the shared experience of a band and headphones by everyone. Plus who can deny that electric keyboard you hear underneath the distorted guitar, the sounds of which haven't been truly heard since Being There.

Next we get "Deeper Down." Where you can hear where the band is really going. The polish of the studio is there. Plenty of pedal steel or maybe even slide guitar and Tweedy is totally involved in a character story of a boxer. Each section gives way to subtle noise and ghosts sounds that sound as if they were lifted straight from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and then once the noise fades we burst through with Nels Cline guitar lines that call to mind Sky Blue Sky and their live shows with none of the negative feelings that have been foisted upon Sky Blue Sky in particular, but merely the fluidity and organic nature of the band's sound that was missing from the heaps of artifice of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (which is not a pejorative description).

Fleetwood Mac dynamics explode onto "One Wing." This song has the band working at full force together and despite the studio glockenspiel touches this captures the live sound of the band. Their ability to be loud and to blend so many parts together. Those vibrous Nels parts, with the Jorgenson and Sansone organ and keyboard parts. You even get to hear Stirratt desperately trying to add high harmonies until it swirls into Nelse distortion (one of the best parts of latter day Wilco) until Tweedy hits a high note that fades into studio swirl.

The most interesting (maybe?) song is "Bull Black Nova" because people have already been comparing it to "Spiders (kidsmoke)" because of its bass driven nature. The difference in the two songs couldn't be more glaring. Whereas Spiders was Wilco playing a genre, saying that they could play krautrock, Bull Black Nova is that genre filtered through Wilco. It is here that Wilco is playing at the highest level of artistry. The form has been taken in by the artist and then ejected outward in the image of that artist. Bull Black Nova is a history of 70's and 80's German excuse for rock called kraut rock call pretenstion filtered through Tweedy and his love of American folk and his mastery of the modern murder ballad, which was first evidenced in Via Chicago. We all know that we are robots and not humans in the the latter day era of the non-christ, so instead of harping on it, give me distortion and give me the murder of one's girlfriend. Plus Tweedy screams.

"You and I". What can I say about the Feist duet? This song is pure 1974. You have to love it once again. Here we get the Wilco of Sky Blue Sky, but polished with the studio touches they had always known so well and we get a masterful lyric like "Oh I don't need to know everything about you. And you don't need to know that much about me." Something I think we can all attest to when hanging on the fringes of love or whatever we want to pass as love. Don Draper couldn't have said it better.

Next we get George Harrison "You Never Know". This comes straight out of a place I am not quite that sure of. The only thing about it is that I know it feels right. This song is better than "Monday" or "Got You (At The End of the Century)" because it isn't copping right off of the Stones. Plus Tweedy is not sermonizing here even though he is speaking to the little kids. Because yeah, everyone young always thinks their generation is the last and that their generation is the worst (I know I do) but he is saying it with a pounding piano 1964 couldn't have invented and those soothing vocals that Jeff Lynne was too dumb to moderate. This song may be so dumb that it isn't worth talking about for so many people, but for me I can't stop talking about it because "I don't care anymore" but "you never know."

"Country Disappeared" this might be the best song that Tweedy has ever written. Formulaic to the end of the earth, but so comforting and reliable in that. The rise and fall from chorus to verse. It is in the end a song. And the band is loose without a doubt, this is a band who is comfortable with each other. Before Sky Blue Sky was released, I told my friend that I hoped Wilco made the loudest album they had ever made because I had seen and heard what they could do live with Nels. They proceeded to make their quietest album. And this song is why; they needed to learn their band dynamics. Tweedy made Being There, not this entire band. This is something we all must understand about Wilco. And besides, Being There was fantastic, but it never broke its shackles as well as this song does.

"Solitaire." Double tracked John Lennon vocals. Acoustic guitar with Yankee Hotel atmospherics. If you are young and not moved by the lyrics to this song then there is something wrong with you.

Then we get Tweedy chanelling Faulkner and the Bible on "I'll Fight." Sure the tune is the same as "On and On and On" from Sky Blue Sky. But I see this as Tweedy knowing his catalogue. He knows that he's done it before and that you didn't like it. But here it is again, better with great organ and keyboards and biting guitars straight from "Getting Better." What else do you want? Maybe he got bored and repetitive. But this album does not suggest a band who is repetitive - it suggests a band who knows their limits and their history, the songs that people scream for them to play so that their night can be complete, better than any band out there - than besides Animal Collective who delete the tracks and music to their fans' favorite songs, which is perhaps what all fans and all people need in general in their lives. But those Animal Collective never had slide guitars and shimmering organs like Wilco on this song.

"Sonny Feeling." And you never thought they'd improve on Summerteeth? But they did, by mixing a standout from Sky Blue Sky (Walken) with "I Can't Stand It ," "ELT," and "Nothingsevergonnastandinmywayagain." Ah fuck, it, they pulled a Being There. And you gave up on them after Sky Blue Sky? Of course they put those little Beach Boy harmonies in there to shut you up.

"Everlasting Everything" brings us to some of the material touched on by Sky Blue Sky and much of Tweedy's work: "Everything alive must die." Tweedy has always been an elementary Tolstoyan at heart. Trying to find the essences of life, which all arise out of death, although he may get confused through his ego and the rock n' roll vocabulary. The production of this song does not suggest an understanding of the themes therein - at first. However, after repeated listens - ah forget it. I will not pretend that I know what this song reveals on repeated listens. What I know is that I like this song and that it sounds important and that they put church bell crashes on it because they felt like it. Glen's drumming has never been better because this song has "Poor Places," "Misunderstood," "Sunken Treasure" and "Hate it Here" in it. And you never thought about those bedfellows before.

So, in the end as the last notes of "Everlasting Everything" fade with the lyrics of everlasting love overcoming all. It is rare that we witness a band in the middle of defining its entire career and knowing itself in and out for good and bad. There have been a handful of bands who have and they usually made double albums because they were deep into drugs and not self-aware of their limits, they just knew them naturally. But Wilco has always been a band not based on natural feel. That died with Uncle Tupelo. Being There feels natural, but that is because Tweedy was guiding it toward natural. Being There is the ultimate of artifice, even more than Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, because at least there - although his songwriting was sure, the production was not sure (although it sounds it, plus his voice sounds less congested). Here Tweedy is sure. Wilco is sure. These guys know each other, they know the songs, they know the studio. They know what it takes to make a great album. For Tweedy (because Wilco will always be measured in Tweedy) this is a coup. Few rock figures have been able to bounce through self-seriousness and depression and light-heartedness as much as Tweedy. And here, just when you were ready to lose your faith in him - he shows you that he knows, because Wilco was always an experiment and it will continue to be, but this is a point for breath, this is when you assess it all. And again, who knows when it will all end?

I won't gush.

And now, "From Here to the Last Mound of Dirt"


The rain has let up and I’m standing outside wearing my raincoat hood over my head. The afternoon is cool and it still smells like summer. The water in the pool has risen high, almost to the top of the rock ledges. I had to come outside to think. I suppose I could’ve just gone to my room and not given myself away by walking past Tom and dad like I did. But I did keep my calm in front of Eve when she told me about the secret I didn’t know. Why did it have to come from her? I love her but she’s not in my family. She is, but she really isn’t. She isn’t the same as all of us.

How is that your vision of your family changes? So many things are always supposed to change, friends, seasons, opinions, favorite ice cream, and even sex. The way you see your family isn’t. It does, though. First you know your mother and father because you need them. Then you know the number of people in your family because you know your brothers and sister. That stays for a while through car rides and fights and sharing bathrooms and dinner and getting rides places. Then everyone gets older – the secrets start coming out. You find out that your father is a good man but he has a past that is deeply flawed, and that’s OK because you find out that everyone does. And being the youngest you get to hear it all, hear all of the problems and the stories of your brothers and sister, the problems and bad things they’ve done. There is nothing of the original picture of family left. What keeps all of that together in a shape? How are you supposed to see it all when you get older?

“Liza, what are you doing in the rain?” Tom’s voice says.

I turn around and see him walking out the door.

“Oh, it isn’t raining anymore,” he says.


He shuffles out and stretches his arms. I think he always liked weather like this. It would make sense because it sort of fits his demeanor. He is all kinds of rain and grey but he is also warm. He walks up to me by the pool with his hands in his pockets. His hair is wet and a bit blackish rather than reddish brown. Is he drunk?

“Well what are you doing out here anyway?”

“Just thinking.”

Tom spreads his legs apart and looks down at his shoes. They’re a nice pair of brown loafers; they seem comfortable. He was the neatest of us for sure. He and James were both neat, although James was always bounding around to a practice or running out with his friends could leave messes and things on the floor. Mom never came down so hard on him. Maybe it was because he took on so much. Tom’s shoes look comfortable but he looks messier than usual.

“There’s a lot to think about, huh?” He puts his hand on my jacket shoulder.

I pull my hood off my head and shake my hair. I look up at his face. He is looking forward, but he senses me and so his eyes drift down to me.

“Tom,” I ask. “What are you doing always riding the trains?”

He takes his hand off my shoulder and puts it back in his right pocket. He scuffs his shoes on the wet stones.

“There’s something about it. Something about that moment of travel, even though I’ll always bounce back from the city out here, when the train is moving I feel good. Having a beer and riding a train. Its very simple in a way.”

I nod my head. He’s very stern now thinking about it. I decide to put my hand up on his shoulder. “You could’ve asked me to come to mass.”

He turns down at me. “Don’t you ever think about anything simple?”

I don’t know what he means by that. He seems really curious, though. He wants to know. There are a lot of simple things in the world I guess. I mean don’t they say that you can break down the whole earth and the universe into different math formulas? Those formulas might be tough to understand but numbers are a lot simpler than stars and atmospheres and endless space. I don’t think I’m supposed to find joy in riding a train and drinking a beer. That doesn’t make sense to me. I want to jump into the excitement of the night at school. But then isn’t simple staying with mom, not leaving her alone. Not killing her.

“Are you drunk, Tom?”

He raises an eyebrow. “No.”

“You’re not like dad are you?”

“Don’t you love dad despite this? Don’t you understand?”

“Yeah I do.”

“No, I’m not like dad.”

He hugs me and I can smell beer. His clothes are wet too but he smells like church and faint cologne. The type that most boys smell like. Musk is what it’s called. Maybe this is what happens to family. We fall apart and bring it back together again. But we aren’t so bad. This is just what we’re changing into.

“I love you,” I say to Tom.

“Thank you.”

I open my eyes and over his shoulder, I can see dad standing in the doorway looking out at us and cradling his bottle to his stomach.

In the rain, I walk over to dad and his motorcycle. He put his glass down on the sopping sod and mud.

“Want to ride?”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

He regards the motorcycle for a moment. The rainwater is streaming down his nose and over his lips.

“You were so close with your mother. You know she’d never let you ride.”

“But why didn’t anyone tell me?”

He looks past me. I turn around and look at the open hole in the ground where the mourners are standing stiff like cardboard. I don’t even recognize any of them. The hole is filling with water. I hope mom won’t drown. She’s not a fish.

“It wasn’t up to us.”

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