They’ve been celebrating twenty years of making music this summer with deluxe releases and discography-browsing setlists during a special anniversary tour. New music from Wilco felt somewhere close, not quite in reach, but somewhere on the distant horizon. Then, by way of Internet surprise, the Chicago band released Star Wars, their ninth album, for free.
Eh, here you go.
Main songwriter Jeff Tweedy and crew give us something to remember the summer by.
Stars Wars opens with a pile of rusty strings on the very loose, very cross-eyed, “EKG.” The album quickly warps into “More…” a folk funk jam with oceans of noise settling onto the shore. By the third song, “Random Name Generator,” a heel-hammering nugget of rock, it’s clear that Wilco are back in the front seat as one of America’s greatest bands. Ain’t no foolin’.
In fact, Star Wars might join Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Sky Blue Sky as some of the most perfectly sculpted albums in rock and roll. For now, maybe, too soon to tell, but it feels right.
Nearly every song lasts right around the average length of the classic pop song–some two minutes and thirty seconds. Within the short time span the songs are just as evolutionary, tightly-wound and gusto-filled as Wilco’s greatest tracks. The held-back restriction of Sky Blue Sky mixes with the full-range expansion of A Ghost Is Born.
Slip into the casual breeze of “You Satellite” as it rises to a rushing wind. Ride the range on wisps of steel guitar during “Taste the Ceiling.” Get your shoulders up and shimmy along to the egged-on guitar of “Cold Slope.” “I know, I know and you know that I know / It’s a powerplay,” Tweedy sings in perfect gyration with the notes.
Tweedy’s streaming sense of lyrical weirdness is fully intact on “The Joke Explained.” “I stare at the eyes staring at my face / It always ends in a tie / There is no meeting the divine / I cry at the joke explained,” he sings over the whirling electric guitar.
“Pickled Ginger” charges forward in electric calm like a palm-muted version of Wire with sudden groove outbreaks and keyboard fallout. Tweedy warns in a low mumble, “No one tells me how to behave.” Star Wars is wrapped up neatly with a sweet, straight-forward love song that slips around. “Magnetized,” is an ode to the realization of the love that stands before you.
Since releasing their debut album, A.M., in 1995 this band has gone through one of the most exciting transformations in music, shedding old sounds, embracing new tones, letting the old sounds resurface in another genre, but always finding a way to make it sound cohesive, intentional. Star Wars continues the trend with a large arched step forward.
As Wilco continues to tackle these new songs on tour through the fall, it ought to bring them even further out of whatever comfort zone they thought they had. Star Wars gets the physical CD release August 21 with a vinyl release on November 27 from Wilco’s own label, dBpm.