Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Wilco - Star Wars Review

Is it possible to talk about Star Wars without mentioning the matter in which it was dropped? Doubtful, because I need to. While the latest trend of surprise releases spurred by Beyonce’s self-titled have quickly become overused, fans can’t help but be ecstatic. Out of all artists to pull off the shtick, Jeff Tweedy and Wilco did with the greatest of incredulity; a decades-spanning Rock band quietly twiddling away would be one of the last places you’d expect it to come from. And yet, Star Wars, at its heart, remains yet another successor to Wilco’s illustrious career, the choices behind its presentation unrelated to the music contained within. The prominently unaided guitars present a lo-fi sound, while Tweedy’s slightly-parched, lulling voice imparts his philosophical views upon listeners. Star Wars is both more of the same from Wilco, and a vastly different experience. Content with brevity, filled with wit, reducing expansive ideas to the same molecules as blood-spilled love songs. Not everything works, some tracks battle with structured clutter, others fail to leave a mark, but Wilco retains ownership over their prized summer fun; catchy with just the right amounts of weird.

The 11-track, 33 minute LP breezes by, and upon first listen of opener ‘EKG’ it’s pretty obvious why. Instrumental at heart but lively as a burning wick, the intro succumbs to multiple guitars melting between one another, jagged and jittery as they collide. Add in Tweedy, compose some structure, and you have Star Wars. It’s a bare bones project that emphasizes an inclusion of all parts to make for one hectic experience. There are times of down-trodden pleas that near acoustic levels but those work as more intermediaries to Tweedy’s more expressive tracks, like ‘More…’ or ‘Where Do I Begin.’ Both begin as melancholy rendezvous’ testing the waters before expanding into Noise Rock standouts, the former billows as a guitar swells while the latter explodes with a shuffling guitar and reverse hi-hats. In each case, and other moments here, the songs taper off, collapsing under their own ballooning weight, which causes a bit of disappointment because, given a longer length, these climatic points could be seen as tectonic shifts in the fabric of the record, rather than confined to their respective space. Regardless, Star Wars’ lo-fi sound effectively conjures a diverse landscape that chooses to ascend and descend as opposed to remaining lethargically din. 

Speaking of this constantly changing tide, Jeff Tweedy’s dynamic lyricism is a thing to behold. There’s numerous times throughout the LP where things feel contemporary and bland only for Tweedy to abruptly insert a hidden gem of a chorus, as if he himself knows when things stagnant. ‘Cold Slope’ and ‘Magnetized’ both emphasize this perpendicular arrangement, the former turning a 180 to a mellow realization as Tweedy declares “I don’t recognize you anymore,” while the closer evolves into this thematic culmination, expressing that he “feels like we’re magnetized” with a subtle female accompaniment. Entirely reminiscent of the wanderlust found on Summerteeth, ‘Magnetized’ cries, coos, and sways along with the conjoining of two hearts. It’s easily Star Wars’ most beautifully exhibited song. Elsewhere though, not everything is heartfelt Wilco love songs, Tweedy seems to be enduring the escapism of being someone else, experiencing a life not his own. ‘Random Name Generator’ sees the vocalist taking on other identities, running away to the Milky Way “remembering the stars in the sky,” while ‘You Satellite’ sees him contemplating his own life whilst flying off past the satellites. It’s this last one, and its flawless progression, that makes it the gleaming beacon of the album and one of Wilco’s finest moments.

‘You Satellite’ contains some of Star Wars’ most defiant guitar work, a crisp solo rocks against another guitar, this time more soothing and melodic. Despite the rigid length, the song still feels eternal with a ever-expanding instrumental concluding it, as if to be floating off in space with chaos all around you. Things return to normality for the rest, which makes its standout nature a bit disheartening. As for other tracks though, there’s some rather interesting comparisons. ‘The Joke Explained’ sounds like St.Vincent Strange Mercy-era, while some tracks, like ‘Magnetized’ and ‘Taste The Ceiling,’ give off an Arcade Fire Suburbs-era vibe without the mass of hushed orchestration. Then there’s atypical Rock anthems, ‘Pickled Ginger’ is one such one that never lets up on the low end, as a gnarled guitar plucks the bottom barrel of ugliness in grunge. Unfortunately many of these songs would have faired much better given time to breath, they feel endless in manner, whether gliding along in space or cruising down the freeway, the abruptness they all condone causes piqued ears to deflate. Given this minimalistic culture however Star Wars wastes no time journeying through moments, the defocusing of attention non-existent with enjoyment high in one facet or another. 

Sure, this record isn’t as good as Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or Summerteeth, but it shows a continuation of skills Tweedy has crafted to advance his repertoire of useful sounds over his melodic voice. Tweedy, as would be expected, carries the album with his blunt lyricism of bringing grand ideas to minuscule issues. One can state that, sure, we are just a rock floating in space, but Star Wars shows us that no matter what lies in the stars the feelings held within remain true and feasible. There are many times throughout this piece where organic instrumentation, namely non-conformist guitars and unpolished drums, coincide with spacial noises beaming down from elsewhere. Maybe Wilco aims at telling a love story arranged by the stars, where, no matter the struggles both face, at the end of the day they’re still magnetized. It’s a resounding finale of reassurance, a showing that for all the questions floating around our earth, answers for the two of them lie within.

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