on September 27, 2011
Wilco is one of those bands you can never sleep on.
Nearly a decade removed from their most esteemed album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, circumstances have changed for the Chicago-based rockers. There was a time in which Wilco couldn't do anything without causing everyone to stand up and take notice.
My senior year in high school was the year A Ghost Is Born came out, and everyone was talking about that record. It was everywhere. You couldn't escape the buzz from that album if you bought real estate under a giant boulder.
But if you were one of those, like me, who soon tired of the Wilco hype, you eventually got your wish. It wouldn't be fair to say the hype died, but I don't remember the previous two albums generating the same level of hysteria we saw with Ghost.
But now it is 2011 and I've got to eat my words. I finally decided to give Wilco an in-depth listen, and I see what the big deal is. If there's a new wave of hype over the latest Wilco record, don't expect to see me run for cover. Because if there's any justice, The Whole Love should start a revolution of its own.
The Whole Love seems to strike a medium between the two extremes the band painted in the 2000s. It's certainly more level headed than Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost is Born, but is more adventurous than their last effort, Wilco (the album). The opener, "Art of Almost," builds up slowly, leaving you wondering what exactly this album has in store for you. But when the extended guitar solo kicks in, you know you're in for a truly unique ride.
As a listener who appreciates variety, The Real Love is an easy sell. This album has it all, from sprawling epics to clashing rockers and well crafted pop nuggets.
"I Might" sees the band combining pop and rock styles like second nature. You are treated to strong hooks that are punctuated by guitar pyrotechnics going off left and right. When Jeff Tweedy's voice kicks in during the chorus, I can't help but notice he sounds a bit like John Lennon.
And speaking of Beatles influence, another treat comes on "Sunloathe." It's dreary at first, but picks up as it goes along. The second half reminds me of the Abbey Road medley, particularly in regard to the harmonies and drum fills.
One fact Wilco fans should be well aware of is that there's nothing quite like the effect of a dynamic frontman. There are few tracks that better accentuate that than "Standing O," a rollicking rocker on which Tweedy confidently asserts himself -- "Maybe you've noticed I'm not afraid of everything that I've done / Maybe you've noticed I'm not the same as almost anyone."
And if you like Wilco's lyricism, "Dawned On Me," will also be high on your favorites list. I enjoy the aggressive attitude and the way the words wrap around each verse. Look at the second verse:
"I've been lost
I've been found
I've been taken by the sound"
It's simple, but dramatic when delivered the way Tweedy does it. This is the song most deeply ingrained in my head right now.
"Black Moon" and "Rising Red Lung" are mellow, quiet, and thought provoking. They're the two songs on The Whole Love that best reflect on Wilco's alt-country roots, and they're the two songs that best represent my state of mind when I'm ready to chill out.
"Capitol City" has a jovial, bouncy, show tune-y feel to it. "Open Mind" is an emotional ballad, with lyrics that tug at your heart strings. Then you have "Born Alone," one of my personal favorites. At first glance it's your typical pop/rock gem, but near the end it gets reflective and really rocks out.
The Whole Love comes to a close with "One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley's Boyfriend)" a devastatingly vivid 12 minute chronicle on the deterioration of a relationship between father and son. Pay close attention to the lyrics and it'll produce a lump in your throat.
What makes Wilco great is the sincerity of everything they produce, coupled with the unique musical ideas that seem to turn up on each of their records. The Whole Love is the perfect album if you're looking for something refreshing, or for anyone who's a fan of great songwriting.
on September 27, 2011
It would have been so easy for Wilco to just fade away. No one would have begrudged them any; Yankee Hotel Foxtrot still engenders enough goodwill in the music community ten years after its release that if Jeff Tweedy decided to spend the rest of his years writing paeans to fatherhood and singing sweet, insubstantial love songs with Feist, everyone would simply nod their heads and go along with it. But what Wilco has always done best is growth, from Being There's epic expansion of classic Americana to the unapologetic power pop of Summerteeth to A Ghost Is Born's startling abrasive rock classicism. Through it all the constant was Tweedy, suffering through a recurring painkiller medication and the woes of growing old, his biting lyricism continually well tempered with fine melodies culled from the best folk tradition, from Cash to Young to Bragg. Yet as a first single, "I Might" was disturbingly coy; for all the lyrics about parental discord and setting children on fire, it was fairly rote late-period Wilco. That is to say, boring and not particularly memorable. In the context of The Whole Love, however, it's one heck of a red herring. It's the most conventional song on here, an old-fashioned rock `n roll respite cleverly placed after the delightfully unconventional opener "Art of Almost." That is the song that sets out the mission statement of The Whole Love - an unassumingly complicated drumbeat propelling a foggy atmosphere of discordant electronics and haunting strings, Tweedy himself practically a ghost in the background, all the elements swirling around each other without falling apart. It's a harkening back to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot territory, at least until Nels Cline rips in with a guitar solo that stretches the song to nearly seven and a half minutes and serves notice that this is not the same Wilco that made that seminal 2001 release. It's the biggest mark Cline has made since joining the band, and the only tragedy is it's taken them three albums to finally realize this incarnation of Wilco's potential.
It's hard to pinpoint just what The Whole Love does best. There's hints of Summerteeth-esque pop bliss on crunchy guitar numbers like "Dawned On Me," where Tweedy's charmingly imperfect voice gives the chorus all the pizazz it needs. The countrified ballad "Open Mind" finds Tweedy at his most confessional, the campfire vibe recalling Uncle Tupelo and the lyrics Tweedy's most unashamedly direct. "Capitol City" is a bit more ill advised, a disposable little vaudeville exercise that sounds like a Beatles outtake circa Sgt. Pepper's, but what still captivates is just how well crafted it is. Mikael Jorgensen's jaunty keyboard, Cline's lilting pedal steel, Glenn Kotche's waste-not/want-not drumming (the man is brilliant in giving even the wispiest rhythm a very real substance and gravity): it's all greater than the sum of its parts. That is perhaps the enduring lesson of The Whole Love; for all of Tweedy's evocative songwriting and pained, autobiographical stories, Wilco is a band, first and foremost. More so than perhaps any other album in Wilco's catalog, The Whole Love succeeds because the band isn't evolving exponentially or diving headfirst into musical waters unknown. For all its weirdness, "Art of Almost" isn't exactly indicative of what's to come, per se. It's how the band members interact on "Art of Almost" and "Capitol City" and the deceptively simple title track that makes The Whole Love such an improvement over lackluster previous outings. There's so much going on here that even the most straightforward of tracks has a subversive flair about them that an initial listen might not catch. The buzz saw lower-end distortion in the otherwise sunny "I Might" and the understated bass rhythm from "Rising Red Lung" are just two examples, and the fact that they both involve John Stirratt is no coincidence - he is the unsung hero of The Whole Love. But it's more than any one man's contribution, more than Tweedy's forlorn vocals, more than Cline's elegant guitar licks, more than Kotche's economical drumming. It's Wilco the whole band, a unification of talents so seamless you wonder why every Wilco album doesn't come out so brilliantly (and so effortlessly) put together.
Perhaps nothing encapsulates what makes Wilco such a special band at this stage of their career than closer "One Sunday Morning (A Song For Jane Smiley's Boyfriend)." It's not a song that reinvents the wheel; stylistically it would feel just as home on 1995 debut A.M. as it does here. It picks a destination and it sets out for it, riding the back of an irresistibly simple fingerpicked motif and a syncopated hi-hat. "This is how I'll tell it / Oh, but it's long," Tweedy sings, and he isn't kidding; at just a hair over twelve minutes, it's one of the longest in Wilco's catalog. But it never feels that way, despite the song's unerring consistency. Embellished by strings and piano, it stays its course and gradually dissipates over a long outro, but the experience is timeless. For twelve minutes Wilco isn't some institutional rock group, testing the outer boundaries of pop and creating something new and exciting. This is a song in the great American tradition of Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, painting a picture of old dust roads and melancholy sunsets, Tweedy bemoaning at the end "bless my mind, I miss being told how to love / what I learned without knowing / how much more I owe than I can give." It's a celebration of the art of storytelling, a tradition and a template that Wilco have always been deeply indebted to. That's what The Whole Love is all about, telling a story and sticking to it, crafting a mix of sound and lyrics that best symbolizes the music that beats under American highways and floats around American campfires. Wilco have had their peaks and valleys, but they have never sounded as confident as they do on The Whole Love. For a band with eight studio albums and coming up on eighteen years running, I can't think of anything more impressive.
There is a danger when you try to satisfy everyone that you satisfy no one. Jeff Tweedy is keenly aware of this since in recent years Wilco has tended to polarize music fans who love their experimental side as evidenced on their masterpiece "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" but are not overly keen on their gentle country rock side as evidenced by albums like "Sky blue sky". But in the world of Wilco the whole is the sum of the parts and in a remarkable career they have become the premier American band by refusing to be pigeonholed and being driven by a sense of sonic adventure. "The Whole Love" is their eighth full album and comes as a single album or a slightly longer special edition with 4 additional tracks. It essentially covers all Wilco bases with a mix of the experimental and traditional. This is most in evidence on the two best tracks which bookend the main album. First up is the powerful 7 minute plus opener "Art of the almost" made up of a wonderful cacophony of pulsing synths, propulsive beats and Nels Cline doing a great impression of Richie Blackmore. As a polar opposite the album concludes with the gorgeous twelve minute plus alt country acoustic epic "One Sunday Morning (Song For Jane Smiley's Boyfriend)" where not one second is wasted and which may be one of Tweedy's finest compositions ever. In between you get some of the best pop songs since Summerteeth and a fine balance between artsy, melodic and country. The single "I might" for example has a throbbing bass, a sub Doors style keyboard line and enough hooks to catch mackerel. Cline's injects the song with ragged guitar lines as Tweedy who is clearly enjoying himself intones that "It's all right/You won't set the kids on fire/But I might". Following songs like "Sunloathe" the truly lovely "Black moon" and the thing of beauty that is "Open mind" are a trilogy of mellow Tweedy ballads which anchor the album, although it is the later "Rising Red Lung" which impresses most with its haunting ghostly guitar lines in the background.
Along the way the sub Velvet Underground sound of the excellent "Dawned on me" starting with a classic Lou Reed riff and ending with some Nels Cline led feedback. One slip does come in the form of "Capitol city" where Tweedy revisits his Lennon and McCartney enthusiasm on a jaunty sub White Album song that is easier to admire than love. The whimsy however is quickly shattered by the preceding "Standing" with its 60s organs and raw guitar rock as the band cut lose and even introduce handclaps. While the penultimate title track is inevitably overshadowed by the brilliance of the concluding "One Sunday Morning" it is a punchy and jaunty song, which could have happily fitted amongst the hazy pop of Summerteeth. The four extra tracks on the special edition include the ironic blues of "I love my label", the slightly Mexican tinged acoustics of the excellent "Message from Mid Bar" and a slightly different version of the scintillating "Black Moon" where on subsequent listens you detect a clear Elliot Smith influence. It is however the six minute plus instrumental "Speak into the rose" that dominates here as it harks back to "A Ghost is Born" and the pulsing electronica "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" and its slowly building simple, driving rhythm and gradual layers of guitars. Five minutes in the band basically have a great wig out but never lose control. It reminds those who ever described Wilco as "Dad rock" to wash their mouths out and offer profound apologies.
Taken as a total package "The Whole Love" is one of the most enjoyable Wilco albums the band have constructed. Creative freedom might be a factor as its their first album on their own label dBpm Records and yet again recorded in inspired comforts of home at the Chicago loft studio which featured on the Sky Blue Sky videos. Ultimately for long term Wilco fans this album proves that the stability of recent line ups has finally paid off with a set of musicians who could play the spoons for 12 songs and make them sound great. Alternatively were "The Whole Love" to be your introduction to this great Chicago band you would discover an album chock full of so much music that recalls their great history that its almost a "Best Of".
on October 18, 2011
I wish I could echo all of the high praise being showered over Wilco's latest. But I can't. Like most of their previous records, a number of tunes from The Whole Love will undoubtedly grow on me, but I'm guessing this time around there won't be nearly as many.
Naturally, as this is still Wilco, there are some amazing songs here. In fact, the first two tracks start this thing off fantabulously. After that, however, the brilliance becomes increasingly intermittent. It's pretty darned mellow, but not in the serene way the of a CD like Sky Blue Sky (which I love). And while Jeff and the boys certainly don't need to repeat themselves, I can't help but say this CD is kinda boring.
There, I said it. Boring. Yes, introspective. Yes, lyrically interesting. But boring, nonetheless.
I realize that I'm in the minority here, but I can't say it's great just because it's Wilco. More accurately, it's Jeff Tweedy and an incredibly talented group of musicians...which, I maintain, might be part of what's not quite right here.
While Mr. Tweedy is clearly and deservedly the guiding force of this legendary band, I believe their output would benefit from more collaboration when it comes to actually writing songs. If you need proof, one listen to The Autumn Defense's last two efforts will clearly demonstrate that Sansone and Stirratt have contributions to make beyond instrumental wizardry and tight background vocals.
Now, to be clear, I remain a BIG Wilco fan. And I'm GLAD I bought this -- especially the deluxe edition which has a couple standout tracks on it. Some of Nels Cline's solos are just epic. It's simply that The Whole Love will never to crack into my Wilco top 5.
Most importantly, in my humble opinion, this is NOT the first CD to buy if you're curious about Wilco.
And that is the whole truth. Or at least my version of it.
on September 28, 2011
Dear Music Appreciator,
Knowing that more than enough will be written about this new Wilco album by more than enough reviewers both on this website and on countless others, I humbly offer (to those who are truly shopping and are truly reading reviews for the purpose of deciding whether this product is worth paying for) the following three reasons to buy this album.
Buy this new album by Wilco if...
1. ...you are already a fan - whether a casual or a dedicated fan you will find in THE WHOLE LOVE some of the fine qualities from each of the previous Wilco records carefully crafted around new and creative ideas. If you really are a fan you should probably at least get the Deluxe CD edition for the bonus disc and 52 page booklet with the groovy artwork all housed together in a firm carboard slipcase that will look good lined up with all your other special edition CDs on your CD shelf.
2. ...you are a patient and intelligent music fan who doesn't mind spinning an album again and again and again before truly deciding how you really feel about it. Some of these songs are instantly accesible and some are growers, but Wilco as a band has always been like great literature for me in that I have to study them out a bit and actually spend some quality time really listening before I truly begin to appreciate what I'm hearing.
If you are relatively new to Wilco and if you haven't seen it yet, I recommend that you watch the movie I AM TRYING TO BREAK YOUR HEART: A FILM ABOUT WILCO. This movie was a turning point for me in my appreciation and understanding of the band - probably safe to say that if you really enjoy the movie you will enjoy this new Wilco album (and every Wilco album?).
3. ...you think of yourself as a person who appreciates and supports artists who continually explore the limits of their creative abilities in new and interesting ways without much apparent regard for commercial success. Wilco is a band that does this. Wilco is a band that is consistently thoughtful, creative, and fun - a band that accomplishes the neat trick of being the same but different rather than just being the same or just being different. Wilco is a band that knows itself and that knowledge gives them a confidence that continues to power their flight over consistently creative musical terrain.
I can't say I am a huge Wilco fan, and I definitely don't want to start digging into how this album is better than album X or doesn't live up to album Y (insert your own X and Y there). I do own all of their albums, and I generally find them all to be great. I've never really had a favorite as I find my mood often dictates what I want to listen to and how much I'll enjoy it.
With that out of the way, I was excited to find a new Wilco Album in the mail this week and have even grown in appreciation of the band after listening to this album (and watching the documentary on the making of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot). This album is fantastic. I've listened to it a half dozen times and each time I find myself liking a different song and being hooked on different facets of others.
This is a case where an album grabs me as opposed to a specific song. I think it is the excellent production that has gone into it. As I find most important in albums, the unit is very cohesive and works well together. It pulls me in right upfront with the Art of Almost and sometimes I haven't noticed where I'm at until One Sunday Morning has ended, nearly an hour later. In the middle I find myself loving the lyrics of Jeff Tweedy, the musicianship shown by the whole band (I really love the use of Organ and Piano in many places) and as I am now learning to appreciate the little sounds added here and there that make for a unique masterpiece.
So, I'll let others decide whether this ranks in Wilco's catalog. I just know that it is an album I'll enjoy in the now and I'll definitely enjoy in the future. It is going to be one of the best of 2011 amongst a flurry of already wonderful releases.
As for the deluxe edition: I love the bonus disc. I'm glad they aren't part of the main album, but they definitely aren't the typical B-Side type junk that many artists like to include. This is a testament to Wilco's skills and talents. Perhaps why I can't decide what their best album really is, is because they aren't capable of writing many bad songs.
on September 30, 2011
Why is it that we, as a society, subscribe to the meme that an artist's early work is always the best? It's hardly ever true. Who can honestly say that Please Please Me (Remastered) is better than Rubber Soul (Remastered)? Artists are supposed to change and grow.
Wilco does that. They move forward with every album. Yes, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is the one they'll be remembered for, much like Pink Floyd is remembered for Dark Side of the Moon. But that's no reason to dismiss later efforts.
I find that each of their records is enjoyable on its own merits. "The Whole Love", in my opinion, is their strongest work since YHF, and possibly its near equal. This is definitely a more dynamic album than a couple of their earlier efforts, and something of a return to form for the band. "Art of Almost" resembles YHF in its endearing weirdness. "I Might" is shockingly upbeat for Wilco, and I find myself listening to it on repeat for the way the organ hovers above the noise. "Dawned On Me" finds the band channeling their inner pop group, and "Born Alone" finds Tweedy channeling his inner Tom Petty (via early 70's glam).
"Open Mind" reminds me of one of those slow-moving, late-era Dylan blues songs with a startlingly lyrical lead guitar that fills the empty space between verse and chorus and a classic Tweedy vocal. The title track is catchy and fun to listen to, while "One Sunday Morning" is a phenomenal closer, mirroring a classic folk melody I can't place, and it shows that Wilco can still out-indie today's so-called indie bands.
I think it's time for some of Wilco's fans to catch up with the band. Why should they remake YHF every 3 or 4 years? Get with it, people- it's 2011 (for a little while, yet). Just because you prefer one or another era of this or that band is no reason to dismiss 50% of their catalogue. "The Whole Love" is a great record, and if you enjoyed Yankee or "A Ghost Is Born" you'll love this one, too.
on October 19, 2011
Wilco is my favorite band this week. I have been listening to nothing but Wilco since Sunday afternoon. It's now Wednesday. Pity it took me so long to discover them.
Specializing in ear friendly country alt rock with flourishes of experimental avant garde noise, Wilco is in a class all by themselves. Their sound is simultaneously familiar yet unmistakably unique. My friends tried to tell me how great they were but it took me awhile to catch on.
Songwriter Jeff Tweedy is at the top of his game on "The Whole Love" with a number of outstanding compositions including the title track, the hauntingly lovely "Black Moon" and my personal favorite; "One Sunday Morning (Song For Jane Smiley's Boyfriend)", which clocks in at a full twelve minutes long. I found myself listening to that track over and over. It puts me in the perfect head space; happy, care free with just a touch of wistful nostalgia. The Deluxe Version is well worth having featuring the upbeat anthem "I Love My Label" and an alternate mix of "Black Moon". Did I mention that song was hauntingly lovely? Don't listen to me. Spring for the CD. The Whole Love is the whole enchilada!
on November 2, 2011
I consider myself a long time Wilco fan and consider them my favorite band of all time. In most cases, Jeff Tweedy can do no wrong, and most of the time, he does everything just right. I admit, I tend to fall in with the crowd who consider Being There, Summerteeth, and YHF to be Wilco's most interesting, enjoyable, and strongest albums to date. I have watched "I am Trying to Break Your Heart" at least 5 times (you can get on Netflix streaming), and while I do think Jay Bennett comes across as a pseudointellectual who over analyzes even the simplest tasks, it is hard to argue that the guy wasn't talented. JB brought something really special to the early Wilco recordings, and I agree wholeheartedly with those who say that since his depature, and sadly his death, Wilco is a very different band, for better or for worse. With that said, I do not think is is appropriate to compare "The Whole Love" to the albums that Wilco recorded before 1999. I cannot even really compare it to A Ghost is Born, which I like fine, but I am not crazy about it. I have several friends who think that after the "brilliance" displayed on A Ghost is Born, Sky Blue Sky was a huge disappointment. I actually like SBS more than A Ghost is Born. Sure, Tweedy mellowed, sold some of the songs to Volkswagon, seems to address his wife and kids throughout the album, but I also think he says some very beautiful things about the role of the artist as an individual, the role of artist as a creator, and the role of artist as a family man, and the delicate way in which to fuse the three together. The instruments on SBS carry the lyrics along nicely and the album is mixed very well. I was actually more disappointed in Wilco The Album. It has some catchy tunes, but overall I think it is probably their most boring album to date. So when The Whole Love was released, I knew I would buy it, but I was kind of preparing myself not to enjoy it. I will admit that initially I didn't, but then after I heard Standing O, I mean after I really listened to that song, and I couldn't get out of my head. It is such a good rockin' tune that reminds me of some of Wilco's early great rockers like Outtasite Outtamind or Forget the Flowers. After loving that song so much I have found other new favorites on the album and I agree that song for song, The Whole Love is Wilco at their finest. I agree with the reviewers who have commented about certain songs sounding like John Lennon or the Beatles. I think the title song, for instance, could've been written by John and Paul. But make no mistake, it is Wilco, all Wilco, and there is no other band like them.
on October 6, 2011
Often labeled as Country-Rock or Americana, Jeff Tweedy and his gang of musicians that make up Wilco quietly evolved little by little with each release following their 1995 debut "A.M." When Wilco released "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" in 2002, however, they threw any pre-conceived notions their fans had about the band out the window.
Sure, Wilco offered up glimpses of clever experimentation with "Being There" in 1996 and "Summerteeth" in 1999, but "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" blended experimentation with a supremely well-written and diverse collection of songs to formulate one of the finest albums of the decade by any artist.
"The Whole Love" is Wilco's eighth studio album. Although the band has always been granted a good deal of creative freedom with their recordings, "The Whole Love" is also the first record released on their own label, dBpm, which gave them the time necessary to try some new ideas. From the downbeat of the opening track, "Art of Almost," it is perfectly clear that this is, once again, a new Wilco.
"Art of Almost" opens with the sound of a needle hitting a record as drums, bass, and synthesizers build on a minute-long instrumental loop. Before listeners begin comparing Wilco's new album to Radiohead, however, the electronic loop fades into a vast sea of strings that hold onto an elaborate chord until Jeff Tweedy's unmistakable vocals make their first appearance of the record. As the seven-plus minute opener develops, many new instruments and sound effects are introduced which assist in creating a wave of dynamics that is often lost in most modern recordings. "Art of Almost" is easily one of the most ambitious songs Wilco has ever released and to open "The Whole Love" with such a recording is a statement few bands could make successfully.
"Art of Almost" is followed by "I Might," a track that feels much more familiar, but still holds onto an edge of unproven additions. Balanced by a repeating, catchy hook and weighing in at just under four minutes in length, "I Might" is groomed for radio, but still pushes the boundaries of a customary pop song. Matched up with "Dawned on Me" and "Born Alone," "The Whole Love" begins to feel like a blend of Wilco's popular early hits and critically acclaimed visionary performances from their later years.
Wilco has always had a knack for properly balancing a track listing in an effort to prevent listener fatigue and their art is perfected on "The Whole Love." Typically trading upbeat hits with more emotive slower tracks, Wilco's clever song placement holds the attentions of fans both new and old on a straight through listen.
Never does one particular style feel played out, nor does the urge to hit the skip button ever arise.
Although the album opens with the most ambitious track in the instrumental sense, a 12-minute closing number, "One Sunday Morning" puts Tweedy's heart on his sleeve and takes as many chances lyrically as "Art of Almost" does musically. The beautiful acoustic song is as simple an arrangement as "The Whole Love" offers giving Tweedy the perfect showcase for his talents as a poet. Tweedy's vocals remain quiet and unwavering, never truly capturing the power of his words, but by the time the song finally concludes, the emotions he clearly feels are shared by the listener. It is a truly unique listening experience for Wilco fans and one very few songwriters have ever been able to pull off with any amount of success.
"The Whole Love" is a celebration of freedom for Wilco. They're on their own and have the means to release music at their leisure now. The result, thus far, has been one of their best albums to date. One can only hope this is only the first of many independent releases from this phenomenal American band.
Track Suggestion: "Art of Almost"