Monday, June 4, 2007

The Semi-Ok Gig In The Sky

My junior year in High School, my father had recently begun listening to 90.7 Fordham Radio. You should check this gem of a station out. The station’s neon deon show is City Folk, but the real dark horse is Vin Scelsa’s Idiot’s Delight on Saturday night from 8pm – midnight. Enjoy now back to the story. Towards the end of my junior year my Dad had on 90.7 as we were driving. A song called Brimful of Asha by Cornershop was playing as we drove down Sussex into Morristown. I really liked the song but the reception was so damn shitty, that the sitar blarring in and out over the radio became more of an annoyance then entertainment. As we broke into Morristown the reception cleared up only in time for the one-hit wonder to fade (one more time) into the wanderlust night. My disappointed ears were soon caught off guard by a kick drum. The song then broke into one of those pop medleys that just melts your heart. They grab hold of you andchook you waiting for that next note. That was this song. The title was Heavy Metal Drummer by a band called Wilco. For those who knew, the song was off their fourth album Yankee Foxtrot Hotel. I, however, was lost in the trance of Jack Johnson and other preppy shitheads like guster and dispatch. When I asked my dad about the band he said he thought it was one of the best bands he had heard in along time. He had not listened to the album in its entirety but of the few select cuts he had heard on the radio were convincing enough. A day later I was walking by Scotti’s record shop in Morristown and decided to buy the album. Getting back to my car I slipped the cd into the player and pressed play. I’m not here to kiss ass but goddamn that shit was spiritual. The opening cords of I am trying to break your heart are fucking harrowing. From the Flaming Lips-esque opening to the simple alarming ring of an old piano transition into the true song you could tell this was different. This wasn’t just different but a shift. It shifted musically what a rock band could do. When Jeff Tweedy croons the opening line, “I am an American aquarium drinker,” Wilco was ascending the ranks. In truth this and the follow up A Ghost is Born are two of the best American rock recordings ever. If you haven’t heard either one of these albums stop wasting our time and go listen to them. Once you have completed this you can come back and finish reading the review. Yes that’s what this is. It is a review of Wilco’s newest album Sky Blue Sky. For you to understand the importance of this album we should look at it with these two previous albums in mind.
Ok so Yankee Foxtrot and A Ghost are fucking brilliant American folk, country, alt rock pop masterpieces. They explored sound and creatively broke the norms of many styles. Not really a change for Tweedy as Uncle Tupelo (the prior band) became widely respected for redefining Alt Country. However, Uncle Tupelo’s was not as experimental as Yankee Foxtrot and Ghost. If anything the latter two are echoes of the transition that Tweedy has gone through as a maturing signer/song writer. Uncle Tupelo’s truest country reflection can be heard in Wilco’s first album A.M. Though they never truly lose their country roots, their next album Being There represents a shift in Tweedy’s musical mind. A clue of what was to come in the next two albums. This marks the experimental phase of Wilco. If Being There marks the beginning of this phase then Kicking Radio was the band’s Last Waltz performance. Thus Blue Sky Blue is the raising of a new or rather older Wilco flag.
From the opening lines in Either Way there are signs of romanticism and transition.“Maybe the sun will shine today/ The clouds will blow away/ Maybe I won't feel so afraid /I will try to understand/ Either way.” Tweedy has not lost touch with his songwriting; if anything there is more linear narration. This song is riddled with the idea of Maybe, as Tweedy searches for the return of the past. These abstract laments circulate the whole album, but let’s look at the music.
If anything this sounds more like Uncle Tupelo/ A.M. recordings. There is a return to a simplistic country sound. That does not mean the music is less intricate, but rather you won’t hear the intangible sounds of Foxtrot or Ghost. This album applies to a more basic song structuring and brake downs of classic rock. Sometimes it feels like a Pink Floyd Album (Your Are My Face), other times its bluesy Southern rock (Hate It Here), then there are the tracks that are straight folk country (What a Light) that sound like Uncle Tupelo. The album, in truth, is not what people are going to expect if they are hoping for the Wilco we have grown to know. In a way, they have become the painters, who have painted their masterpieces. With this accomplishment comes the relaxing feeling of content. Yes, this implies the halt of forward progression and that can be felt in the album with some tracks (Shake It Off and Please Be Patient With Me.) They almost feel like Wilco songs we’ve already heard, but previously done better. This stale feeling bunkers down the album but in the same stroke there are tracks in here that show the bands comfort ability with their sound (Either Way, Hate It Here, and What Light.) Overall, who are we to judge one of the greatest American bands? Well, we are Powder Horn and we say this album is 7.5 out of 10. Meaning its good when compared to the rest of the pop shit that is out there, shitty if you are comparing it to Foxtrot and Ghost, and ok if you like Uncle Tupelo and A.M. The Teenager, personally and strongly, dislikes the album. I find myself wanting to like it a little more, so I’ve really tried to give it a chance. In the end it’s a good album, but not a very good Wilco Album.

Uncle Tupelo - Still Feel Gone - Watch Me Fall
Wilco - A.M. - Box Full of Letters
Wilco - Being There - Outta Mind (Outta Sight)
Wilco - Yankee Foxtrot Hotel - I Am Trying To Brake Your Heart
Wilco - A Ghost Is Born - Handshake Drugs
Wilco - Sky Blue Sky - Hate It Here
Wilco - Sky Blue Sky - What Light

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