Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Wilco - Sky Blue Sky

Sky Blue Sky (Nonesuch, 2007)
Grade: B+

Wilco is definitely my favorite band, but their past few records have required considerable time to grow on me. After becoming obsessed with Being There in college, the sound on Summerteeth was kind of a shock; the sweet waltz of "Far Far Away" was now the shrill pop of "ELT," and the raucous fun of "Outtasite (Outtamind)" sounded quaint next to the genuinely fucked-up "Via Chicago." In short, Wilco was no longer my Wilco.

Of course, they were nobody’s, and I came to realize that this was for the best. The band shed a couple members, stopped baiting Ryan Adams, and entered an amazingly creative period. Summerteeth and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot are watershed moments for me, musically; they showed me that songs can go off in crazy directions but still maintain shape and form. A Ghost Is Born took that formula further, adding even more noise to the structure, but it didn't adhere nearly as well as Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Wilco was growing in strange ways, heaping nonsense onto some songs ("Less Than You Think") and removing it completely for others ("The Late Greats").

So here we are, two records after Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, six after Being There (this includes the live record Kicking Television and the two Mermaid Avenue volumes). Where is Wilco now? Where else could their sound possibly take them? The answer: backwards.

Though that doesn't sound promising, looking backwards actually means good things for the band. It's glib to describe Sky Blue Sky as a cross between Mermaid Avenue and A Ghost Is Born, but it's accurate. This record takes the sheen and whimsy of their Woody Guthrie project and adds the classic rock influence of A Ghost Is Born and mixes them together seamlessly. The songs grow on you slowly: the foreboding "Impossible Germany" (with its lyrical hook "impossible Germany, unlikely Japan") creeps into your subconsious with its harmonized electric guitars, and "What Light," which seems at first a song akin to Mermaid Avenue's "At My Window Sad And Lonely," is then something more. (If nothing else, it's a song with poor lyrical choices: "If you feel like singin' a song and you want other people to sing along, just sing what you feel, don't let anyone say it's wrong." Ack.) "Shake It Off" is especially Ghost-like, relying heavily on Nils Cline's serpentine guitar work and using plenty of that record's off-kilter rhythms.

Aside from a few toe-tapping moments, Sky Blue Sky doesn't make much of an impression at first. Then you'll find you have "Impossible Germany" or the deceptively simple "I Hate It Here" stuck in your head, and you'll think: damn, they snuck up on me again. Then you’ll think: damn, I love Wilco.

(David Brusie)

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Anonymous ian said...

Cool call on this one David.

9:00 AM  
Anonymous Mark said...

I Love Ryan Adams

10:07 AM  
Blogger Shane said...

I like this album a lot. Never really liked Wilco that much, before.

10:46 PM  

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