Monday, July 20, 2015

"Star Wars" Is a Stunning Foray into Wilco's Proto Punk Psyche and It Kills.

The brand new Wilco album "Star Wars" feels more like a successor to the Tweedy's "Sukierae" than Wilco's indie folk / alt country fare but the transition feels so right and utterly inspired. A bulk of the songs might just have the same musical DNA of artists like T-Rex, Bowie, Television, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, The (psychedelic) Beatles and contemporary artist's like Ty Segall, White Fence, Foxygen and Unknown Mortal Orchestra. The sounds feel more proto punk, a sound that Wilco has ventured into before but not to this degree. "Star Wars" also feels very cohesive. The songs feel like they are meant to be together and while they delve into some experimentation, in a way, "Star Wars" feels like a solid actually quite mainstream indie / garage rock album. It doesn't come out of left field (as much) or feel as darkly introspective as let's say Wilco's 2002 "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" or feel as pop expansive as 2004's "A Ghost is Born" or feel as crazily (musically) vast as 2011's time traveling "The Whole Love". What "Star Wars" does so very well is pull you in immediately into the tone of the album and keep you marvelously surprised.

From the onset, the opening track EKG has a jagged progressive mania in that Primus meets Zappa sort of way signalling that Wilco might be walking a sonic tightrope. More is dreamy x5 with a garage rock feel. Random Name Generator has a thick, lusty glam feel and might be the best T-Rex song they never wrote. The Joke Explained has got the sardonic rock edge of Iggy Pop meets Lou Reed. You Satellite feels like two musical parallel universes out of sync. A powerful battle of wills between walls of guitars and a plodding drum beat and pounding bass as Tweedy muses over those who orbit in and out of his emotional life. It is the broken Wilco at it's best. Tormented. I thought of Built To Spill as I listened to the drawn out musical passion play.

So far the album feels pretty garage glammy. Sounds colliding and songs shape shifting. Taste The Ceiling brings Wilco back down to earth. The song bounds in a Mersey beat sort of way. It has a sense of wanderlust and is just plain lovely. Pickled Ginger is a trip of a song. A boogie woogie deconstructed glam rocker that falls in on itself. Total fun with delicious guitar screams. It feels like a mid tempo mosh pit that is as thick as the biggest Thee Oh sees song.

At this point I can imagine some of the more alternative country / indie folk early Wilco fans standing in stunned silence. Some might feel betrayed and others get it and have big dumb grins on their faces. Where Do I Begin strips away some of the glam and proto punk as Tweedy prettily exorcises the ghosts of Lennon, Elliot Smith and Harry Nielsen. It is down to earth, orchestral but does succumb to a kind of acid trip-ish musical break that is pretty damn awesome. Cold Slope continues the kind of multi-colored almost Yellow Submarine tones as does King Of You. The dramatic downbeats leave a big impression. It cuts a deep groove. Amazing sounds.

The very last track, the everso dreamy Magnetized has a groovy Lennon-esque meets Harry Nielsen chill that truly induces goosebumps. I also thought of Foxygen a bit. I love it's lilting orchestral quality and the perfect final track. It is a wonderful and lovely counterpoint to the opening track EKG that feels so schizophrenic. In the end, "Star Wars" is a fresh, completely inspired work of art. It is also another musical departure for Wilco and one that some of his more indie folk / alt country fans might not like. On social media I did see one random post saying "easily one of the worst Wilco albums"- I couldn't disagree more. "Star Wars" is easily up there as one of Wilco's best work.

The degree that "Star Wars" will go over with Wilco's long legion of indie folk/ alternative country fans is equal to the degree of open mindedness they have.  It, of course, helps if you have eclectic taste in music and if you embraced the "Sukierae" album and thought that "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" was a rad musical adventure. I think most of their true fans will eat it up but I do think that there is a percentage of indie folk folk who don't stray too far from their genre of choice. And I wonder if this is why Wilco released this album the way they did serving it up free so they could cast a wide net and catch many who have heard some of their stuff but not dived deeply into their sound. I can tell you that from the many years I have been on this earth I get a sense that people into garage / punk music seem to have very eclectic tastes in music whereas some of the indie folk fans do not in almost an elitist way.

This is the end of my review of Wilco's "Star Wars". It is the point in which I describe the album in a brief sentence so here we go.  "Star Wars" is a stunning foray into Wilco's proto punk psyche and it kills.
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Robb Donker

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