BEST OF 2011: 9. Wilco – The Whole Love

Having mellowed in recent years, this eighth studio outing represented something of a rebirth. 2007’s ‘Sky Blue Sky’ was a lush and mature record which captured a band with nothing to prove and a confidence born of having made it through trickier times. Unfortunately, such confidence resulted in the somewhat undercooked and surprisingly forgettable ‘Wilco (The Album)’ in 2009. I feared that this was it: the start of the slow descent into mediocrity and middle aged chug. I have had the error of my ways thoroughly highlighted by both this record and their recent UK tour supporting it. This is as strong an album as Wilco have ever put out, just without the drama of being dropped or filmed dramatically in black and white.

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Inhabiting a world somewhere between the emphatic organ-chug of prime Costello which puts in a performance on the excellent first single ‘I Might’, and the more delicate moments of ‘The White Album‘, classic hooks and sing-song choruses are prominent. ‘The Whole Love’ is a nuanced record which highlights musicians with a stunning grasp of melody and a lyricist no longer at war with himself. Less polished and with a real warmth so lacking on their last outing, this is nevertheless an album which asserts its presence from the off.

Album opener ‘Art Of Almost’ emerges from a squall of static into something urgent and convulsing, before finally capitulating to its own spit and swagger seven minutes later. Meanwhile, ensuring that the album’s conclusion is no less stunning than its start,  the twelve-minute ‘One Sunday Morning’ (fourteen if you go for the double vinyl) is a lolling, meditative conclusion unlike anything the band has previously recorded. It is plucked into life, the most delicate touches of piano initially underscoring it, before Tweedy appears, seemingly pressed up close to the microphone, gently intoning the vocal. It never gets any more energetic, despite a little xylophone here and the odd floating drone of electric guitar, but that’s not to say it isn’t one of the most beautiful things the band have ever done. Considering its length, the time flies and the utterly gorgeous musical interplay is an absolute joy to take in, time and again.

And that’s without mentioning stone cold classics like the title track, ‘Sunloathe’ and ‘Capitol City’. Having forged a reputation for making sonically adventurous albums only to find aural contentment and a certain cosiness, they appeared to have commenced the ploughing of a particular furrow. However, as demonstrated by their clear enjoyment during an incendiary live show I saw several months ago, they are very much back in the game. Put simply, this isn’t just an excellent addition to the record collection of a Wilco fan, it’s a remarkable record full stop.

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October Reviews – Wilco, Still Corners, Veronica Falls & Youth Lagoon

My, how time flies. Does the ‘I moved house two months ago’ line still cut it? No? Oh well, that’s all I’ve got. Today, I have arranged the ‘office’, set up the new computer and filed a large chunk of the previously mentioned (and previously unboxed and ignored) CDs.

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WILCO – The Whole Love’ (dBpm / ANTI)

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Having mellowed in recent years, this eighth studio outing represents something of a rebirth. Inhabiting a world somewhere between the emphatic organ-chug of prime Costello and the more delicate moments of ‘The White Album‘, classic hooks and sing-song choruses are prominent, with two exceptions. Album opener ‘Art Of Almost’ emerges from a squall of static into something urgent and convulsing, whilst the twelve-minute ‘One Sunday Morning’ is a lolling, meditative conclusion unlike anything the band has previously recorded. The ten tracks which lie between are effortless and nimble and Jeff Tweedy seems to be a lyricist no longer at war with himself. An excellent return.

A fine return and the noodling moments are most welcome. I was one of those who found ‘Wilco (The Album)’ a little light on excitement and normal service is very much resumed here. The art of the jangly American classic is still the main focus for Tweedy and his men and there’s a wonderful double vinyl pressing, with free CD, which I would recommend seeking out. If they’ve never meant anything to you previously, this won’t suddenly clear the mists, but I can’t imagine many fans being disappointed.

Continue reading “October Reviews – Wilco, Still Corners, Veronica Falls & Youth Lagoon”

19. Wilco – Sky Blue Sky

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Sky Blue Sky’ seems to have been written off by the music loving and music critiquing community for not being progressive enough, coming after ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’ and ‘A Ghost Is Born’. Bollocks to that, I wish to ever so eloquently counter. It’s the slightly safe, homely, quality tunes aspects of this record that makes me love it so much not dislike it. For a period in the summer of 2007 and I listened to little else. Often starting and ending the day with it, to the extent that it became a mechanical reaction to simply slip the CD in and sit back.

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When the guitar solo kicks in during ‘Either Way’ I feel genuinely happy. How many records can you say have such a definitive effect on you? And once that mood has been set, it stays. ‘Impossible Germany’ is a wonderfully oblique love song, cyclically ebbing its way to almost six minutes of splendour, while the riff-hungry ‘You Are My Face’ transcends its shoddy title to provide an air-guitar opportunity of some note.

The quality never abates and ‘Shake It Off’, ‘Walken’ and ‘What Light’ are all of a similarly high standard, with each little twiddly guitar part having a similar effect to the aforementioned equivalent in the very first song. I associate it with summer and tend to play it a lot more during the months when there should be some sunshine. Having said that, it still sounds pretty decent on a sub-zero Friday evening in December.

And, speaking of sound, I feel obliged to tell you to get this – and every other Wilco album – on vinyl. They take the format very seriously and each of their albums is now available on a superior vinyl pressing, with accompanying free CD for all of your digital needs. Not that you’ll really use it as Wilco’s music sounds exceptional on vinyl. That oft talked about warmth from the big slabs of wax is never more noticeable than on albums such as this one.

Not quite just played, but recently

It’s been a while since I did a rambling ‘things-I’ve-been-listening-to-and-quite-like’ type post, so this be one of them.  While plenty of new stuff has crept in, this week has involved a lot of Manics. I’ve been suckered in by the Mini-LP, 2CD Japanese reissues of their studio albums prior to ‘Journal For Plague Lovers’, despite owning all of them and most of the accompanying b-sides. They are utterly lovely though and it has resulted in me realising a couple of things. Firstly, I know the b-sides from the ‘Everything Must Go’ and ‘This Is My Truth’ like they are unofficial national anthems, something that’s not replicated with the more recent albums, suggesting that as I’ve got older, I’ve spent less time with b-sides, despite rabidly gathering them all up. Secondly, as a direct consequence of the last point, the bonus tracks on ‘Lifeblood’, in particular, took me aback. They’re really very, very good and the consistency was still there, even if my attention wasn’t. Oh, and it was another excuse to listen to their gloriously bombastic version of ‘Umbrella’. I love the idea of bonus disc reissues and the notion of an alternative history being offered up by those lesser-known songs. Sadly, very few reissues offer much of any real merit, but these are wonderful collections and this allows me to now say that I didn’t just buy them because they’re shiny and nice. I also bought them to reevaluate a musical legacy. Albeit one in shiny packaging.

I bought The Low Anthem album, ‘Oh My God, Charlie Darwin’, whilst down in London for a bit of real life, over the counter, music you can touch, record shopping back in April. Back then, it was proudly described as a ‘Rough Trade Exclusive’ and it came in a blue card, hand stamped sleeve. It struck me as a marvellous but curious little record and certain tracks got pretty regular plays. I now find it quite surprising to see it receiving a sizeable media focus; it seemed such a tiny, niche release only a few months back. Anyway, because I’m a sad obsessive, I ended up purchasing the vinyl pressing of the new Bella Union release of this wonderful album this week and it sounds absolutely magnificent. It turns out that I haven’t actually bought exactly the same thing twice. Apparently, the album’s been remastered in the interim and resequenced for some reason. I can’t say I really noticed all the much in the way of sonic difference, but then people say that their debut album, ‘What The Crow Brings’, is poorly recorded and I think that sounds rather lovely too. What I can recommend is the pressing quality of this vinyl edition and also that aforementioned debut album which you can buy from their site as a CD preorder (they’re making some more copies – hand stamped and all that malarky) along with a free, instant download to be getting on with. It’s worth also noting that this is yet another solid gold release by Bella Union, a label seemingly unable to do any wrong. Peruse their site, click buy next to pretty much anything and you’ll not be disappointed.

The latest Ohbijou record, ‘Beacons’, is getting played rather a lot round these parts. Ethereal is probably the best word for it and, frankly, it’s more eloquent than sodding marvellous which is the only other way I’ve got for describing it. Pick any track at random, have a listen and I defy you to not fall in love with it. Seriously. Did I mention that it’s on Bella Union?

The new album by The Rumble Strips arrived this week and my first impressions were not great. Apparently, it’s a big step on from the last album, it’s less like Dexy’s and it had added Mark Ronson. Hmm. It’s not a huge success. Firstly, they still sound very like Dexy’s at times, just not as well as they did on the first album and thus it is less enjoyable. Secondly, the sense of fun that made me really rather warm to their debut (‘Girls And Boys In Love’, in particular) doesn’t seem to be there. Now, this is fine in itself, but not when it hasn’t really been replaced with anything else. I’ll give it time, but I think the attempted reinvention may not have been necessary after all.

Plenty of time has been spent picking over all of the b-sides and remixes offered up by the luxurious and really rather shiny (spot the pattern?) Girls Aloud singles collection box set. It’s not hugely revelatory – I knew they were great beforehand, but it’s thoroughly enjoyable stuff for dipping in and out of. The musical equivalent of a ‘toilet book’, I suppose. For example, the weird vocoder effects used on the single mix of ‘Untouchable’ didn’t warrant an additional purchase after buying the album, but it makes for an enjoyable listen when offered up as part of as massive collection of top-notch pop.

I continue to delight in the majesty of the self-titled album by The Duckworth Lewis Method, such is its summery splendour. They recently performed ‘Test Match Special’ on Test Match Special. Arf, arf! What larks. Still, a suitable way to celebrate a decent performance by England this weekend. Alternatively, celebrate shite boats and being pissed by downloading the bonus track, ‘Pedalo’, from iTunes. It was one of the first albums I reviewed for my new glossy-paged home and this leads me nicely to talking about one of the other records from that first batch: Magnolia Electric Co‘s ‘Josephine’, which is Jason Molina‘s finest record in absolutely yonks. And that’s taking as given that the last few have been of a high quality nevertheless. In entirely predictable fashion, I bought the vinyl to accompany my promo CD and it is a fantastic pressing. This is all the more impressive as I’ve found Secretly Canadian vinyl to be of a varying standard in the past and this record truly deserved a decent outing on wax. And so it is. It’s soulful, it’s warm and yet still oddly bleak. Such is Molina’s way with a guitar. If neither Magnolia Electric Co nor his earlier outings as Songs : Ohia aren’t in your record collection you really should set about correcting that criminal oversight.

The quite simply bloody lovely new record by Wilco arrived from the delightfully mispriced (£8.98, free delivery!) Amazon this week and it does not disappoint. Although it seems to be getting some revisionist slagging, I loved ‘Sky Blue Sky’ and so already had high hopes for the appallingly titled, ‘Wilco (The Album)’. The vinyl pressing (What do you expect? It matters!!) is exceptional and the music’s not far behind. At times gently chugging, at times more upbeat and almost poppy than Wilco have been for some time, it’s a concise, summery record that you need to get now so it can soundtrack any remaining nice weather before the end of August. Or you could just wait until the inevitable reissue with a bonus disc that seems to have been the norm for the last few records. Tracks like ‘The Thanks I Get’ were simply tossed out as ‘bonus material’, despite being of album-worthy standard. Here’s hoping for more suitably spiffing bonus stuff this time out.

Having mentioned during the Glastonbury weekend blog overload that I was rather taken with The Hot 8 Brass Band, I’ve been giving their album a few listens of late and, while it’s not one I’ll play from start to finish all that often, it’s does have some truly inspired moments. The take on ‘What’s My Name’ by Snoop Doggy Dogg is reason enough to buy the record, before you even get to the charming interpretation of ‘Sexual Healing’. Suitably bargainous price and copies in stock here.

I’ll conclude with my current favourite pop nuggets. I recently mentioned that I’ve come round to the idea that La Roux, despite looking like an aggressive baby, has released one of the songs of the year with ‘Bulletproof’ and I can’t really see what might actually better it right now. I’m quite taken with the Freemasons single with Sophie Ellis-Bextor, even if she does sing “Heartbreak, make me a darn-ser.” It niggles away at your head that one and it’s hard to shake off. ‘New In Town’ by Little Boots is rather charming but I don’t imagine it has much staying power. The whole of the latest Pet Shop Boys album is still satisfying the vast majority of my pop needs. Feel free to recommend me any great new pop you can think of below.

Right then, suitably rambling as always but with a twist this time. The good folks at both teatunes and Jo-Whiley-hating* The Word magazine regularly share Spotify playlists relating to what they’re banging on about. So, I thought I’d shamelessly steal the idea and try it myself. It doesn’t cover everything listed here – Magnolia Electric Co’s new album’s not on there yet, neither are the Wilco album or La Roux – but it’ll give you a nice idea. Try it by clicking here.

 

*T’was them that made us have Fearne Cotton on daytimes. They killed her.