Star Wars, 180G Black Vinyl LP
Jeff Tweedy leads a band of escape artists—"ex-Uncle Tupelo," "alt-country," "dad rock" are all boxes from which Wilco has managed to break free. Their most recent restraint has proven trickier because it essentially translates to "Wilco". Between the self-conscious retromania of Wilco (The Album) and the self-produced, self-released The Whole Love, their last two LPs strove for comprehensiveness, containment, cohesion. They were rightly received as "Wilco being Wilco" and offered "something for everyone" except potential new listeners, drawing boundaries around their old ideas. In a concrete way, Wilco’s ninth studio LP Star Wars is their most accessible and least demanding, a free download equalizing the Wilco evangelist and those who swore they’d never pay one red cent for their music. Star Wars is also Wilco’s shortest and least agenda-driven album since their debut, two things that actually lend it a novelty that endures beyond its instantaneous release.
For its first minute or so, Star Wars sounds like a record Wilco might have been required to give away for free. The skronking opener "EKG" has drawn valid comparisons to both Sonic Youth to AIDS Wolf, though it’s one of Wilco’s least jarring experiments in instrumental noise—compare it to the 15-minute migraine simulation of "Less Than You Think" or "Poor Places" submerging in a drowning pool of static and "EKG" is downright charming. It’s the first thing you might expect to hear from a band trying to familiarize themselves with each other after their longest break between records. It’s playful rather than confrontational, deflates any kind of self-importance projected on the band, and aligns with the $0 asking price, lawsuit-baiting title, and feline cover art—this record is loose, low-stakes, and fun, adjectives that no one has used to describe Wilco since Being There.
That’s something of a feint. Star Wars bears many signifiers of an off-the-cuff recording—the second-longest track is 3:50, and most are filled with all manner of "what’s this pedal do?" sound effects. The topsy-turvy glam-folk of "More…" becomes cemented in thick distortion, a theremin-like squeal seeps through the otherwise subdued "Taste the Ceiling", "Where Do I Begin" backflips into a coda of reversed drums. But think back on a decade of Wilco songs that regularly rode triple-guitar soloing past five minutes and ask if Star Wars is really the sound of them jamming. This is Wilco at their most concise and airtight; the frayed edges, loose wires, and sonic pockmarks are all considered decisions coming from a group of technical wizards with unconventional tastes that treat post-production like a tattoo artist, engaging in very detailed and skillful defacement. -Pitchfork