In the past few years Wilco have become the most low key rock band, passively releasing albums at a steady cruising pace, shrugging at twenty years of creativity and maintaining an anchor for five individually talented musicians. When they release albums now it’s almost like they’re shielding their eyes from a harsh sunlight. They’re so deflective they didn’t even bother to name their tenth album. Nah. Wilco, Schmilco. Here ya go. Here’s some more songs.
That lackadaisical approach followed them into the studio barely a year after their last release, Star Wars. Each instruments is still trying to establish itself as the songs start. They flop around like untied shoelaces.
Schmilco is maybe the quietest, most wind-swept Wilco album. The songs are like loosely knitted skullcaps that hang on your wall all spring. They come together for a moment and then they’re gone. Only one song tips over four minutes.
“Normal American Kids” opens the album with a lilting stum from Tweedy backed by Nels Cline’s muted guitar. “I was high as high could get always afraid of those normal American kids,” Tweedy sings, trying to untie himself from the grid. It’s in full contrast to the opening track off Star Wars, “EKG”–feathered and sweet rather than cut up and sloppy.
“Cry All Day” is the cheeriest song you’ve ever heard about day-long tear-shedding marathons. The instruments piled in the studio tickle each other on “Common Sense.” Millions of tiny guitar plucks collect in each speaker like the microscopic hairs of a sea urchin. The song transforms into a weird dream sequence with chunks of vibraphones switching off from miscellaneous guitar noise. I started to wonder if Tweedy was gobbling the painkillers again. (Kidding!)
The fwumping drums on “Quarters” disrupts Tweedy’s simple tale of cleaning of a cold, dark tavern filled with bums and floozies. It disappears with smoothed tone outro. “Locator” has a deranged sound with a steady incline as Tweedy dizzily sings, “here below,” ad infinitum, “here below.” It spins casually and forces you to hold onto something grounded.
Schmilco is far from the best Wilco album. There’s no reinvention here, only a gentle massaging of the formula they’ve established collectively over their twenty-year career. Tweedy remains a consistent songwriter for these times and it’s great to hear the band find their sweet spot even if the album comes and goes like the wind between windows.
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