It is with sporadic, spontaneous, and erratic strumming that Wilco’s surprise (and free) new album, Star Wars, opens up. Sounding reminiscent of Jeff Tweedy’s fake Parks and Recreation band, Land Ho!, Wilco takes on the ninth studio album complete with 11 tracks – which were all played at Chicago’s own Pitchfork festival July 17.
While this is Wilco’s first album in four years, it’s been merely months since Jeff Tweedy and son Spencer released the album Sukirae under the band name Tweedy.
Star Wars is random and rambunctious, while still channeling a country drawl in tracks like “The Joke Explained.” The relentless instrumentals pinned against Tweedy’s trademark soft but not sweet vocals mimic all of the amazingly harsh parts remembered from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. “Poor places” and “I am trying to break your heart” are given tributes in the similarly intimidating “You Satellite,” but then “Taste the Ceiling” follows and immediately offers a gentle contrasting melody with somber lyrics.
It is an album peppered with contradictions and surprises, which is exactly what the album was in the first place. It is the other half of the album 13 years its predecessor; while Foxtrot was more mellow with bursts of flammable energy, Star Wars offers only a few relaxing tracks. But briefly bridging the gap is “Where Do I Begin” – and while it is only for an outro, the ending guitar ramblings splice together the two Wilco halves for a few blissful moments.
Parts of the album can only be described as calculated, careful cacophony – and it’s executed in ways that only Wilco can manage. Rather than being pigeonholed, they straddle and experiment with too many genres and styles to count, with expertly crafted results.
While the album is wild, unpredictable, and at times too harsh for the Wilco fan who fancies “Please Be Patient With Me” or “Kamera,” Star Wars is still the same Wilco sound that has been practiced through the years. If anything, the focus is just slightly readjusted.
RIYL: Justin Townes Earle
Key Tracks: “Taste the Ceiling,” “Cold Slope,” “King of You”