Chicago based indie-rock band Wilco is back with a new album, Star Wars, out for free on the band’s website and released through their own label dBpm Records. The album was a surprise release let loose the day after the band played Crossroads in Kansas City. The current tour is commemorating the group’s 20th anniversary, although singer/songwriter Jeff Tweedy and bassist John Stirratt are the only remaining original members.
The group assembled in 1994 after the disbanding of a previous project Tweedy was involved in with Jay Farrar and Mike Heidorn under the moniker Uncle Tupelo. Current drummer Glenn Kotche joined the band 2001 but the band has been recording and touring with its current lineup since 2006.
A change the revitalized the band and pushed the boundaries of where Wilco had gone in the past came in 2006 with addition of multi-instrumentalists Mikael Jorgensen and Pat Sansone, as well as acclaimed jazz virtuoso Nels Cline who took over lead guitar duties following the departure of Tweedy’s old right hand man Jay Bennett in 2001. Bennett was removed from the group finishing the recording process of their 2002 Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, an album initially rejected by the band’s label Reprise Records but held onto by the band and later released on Nonesuch Records.
Star Wars begins with an unfamiliar start for some Wilco fans with the 1:16 track “EKG.” A small, instrumental taste of Nels Cline’s experimental jazz influences. Tweedy’s voice quickly appears on the following track “More…” and comforts listeners with a voice they’ve not heard from since the band’s previous studio release The Whole Love in 2011.
Next is “Random Meme Generator”, a track that odes to the wonderful worldwide web like the album’s title and cover which features a regal, white feline posed before a vase of flowers. The records proceeds with consistent and mellow rock ballads like “You Satellite” and “Taste the Ceiling” from the hands of Tweedy that reflect the band’s mature sentiment and resulting easily listening qualities.
“Where Do I Begin” is Tweedy at his most tender and acoustically armed and is sure to please any Wilco aficionado who might argue the band has fallen off. Star Wars, simultaneously maintains old expectations of the band while bring fresh, rhythmic song approaches like “King Of You” with slide guitar from – yeah, Nels Cline again.
The record comes to a close with the somber, ethereal finale “Magnitized” where Jorgensen begins with a minute of echoing keyboards met with Tweedy and Stirratt’s gentle influence passing over. Cline’s guitar quietly whines in the background like an old phonograph record as the group sings in unison “realize we’re magnetized.” Star Wars joins a varied discography of alternative country and rock as the band’s ninth studio album. As Wilco turns 20, no end seems emanate.
Recommended If You Like: Uncle Tupelo, The Jayhawks, Nels Cline Singers
Recommended tracks: 6, 1, 11, 8, 5
Do Not Play: None
Reviewed by Harrison Hipp 07/24/15