A Generous Gift of Experimental Rock
Close-minded individuals have pigeonholed Wilco’s sound throughout the years, describing them as “dad rock” or simply chalking them up as a continuation of alt-country band, Uncle Tupelo. Although the recent generosity of releasing an impromptu, free album seems almost paternal in nature, Wilco has proven yet again they are far from “just your dad’s favorite alternative folk rock band.” The last two LP’s released by Wilco, Wilco (The Album) and The Whole Love, tend to play it safe and follow the band’s typical template, in a positive way. In Star Wars, released July 16, Wilco breaks out of their creative boxes to experiment with dissonant tones and have fun with an agenda-less record.
Star Wars begins with “EKG,” a playfully dissonant garage-rock introduction that sounds as if it came off of Kurt Cobain’s Fecal Matter demos. It’s a punk rock start to a fairly punk rock record. Clearly they weren’t taking themselves too seriously with this work, as the title of this feline-adorned album is unrelated in subject matter and just begging for a lawsuit. Wilco’s whimsical and precarious approach is a mannerism that should be emulated more frequently in all music.
The extemporary nature of the recording of the album can be heard in the promiscuous, sometimes haphazard, guitar effects and the various genres of each track. “More…” and “Random Name Generator” both play around with various, uncanny forms of thick distortion and the ambiguous wails of what sounds like a Theremin. Even when they revisit their alternative folk roots in tracks such as “Taste the Ceiling,” the experimental premise of the album remains prominent. The pace changes in “You Satellite,” a relaxed 5-minute stoner rock expanse that swells into a finale of distorted guitars. Jeff Tweedy’s scratchy voice and cryptic lyrics remain a choice characteristic of Wilco as he sings, “Why can’t we tell / When we’re in Hell” in the folk ballad “Where Do I Begin.”
Initially, it seems Star Wars is the product of an off-the-cuff experiment. Yet, the sounds unfold so seamlessly that the album was either thrown together in a series of perfect jam sessions or expertly crafted, with each sonic earmark and loose end meticulously placed to create an atmosphere of textbook chaos. Either way, Wilco has proven yet again why they are one of the most underrated and interesting acts of our time.