Saturday, May 19, 2007

Album Review -- Sky Blue Sky

"But this is what love is for/ to be out of place/
gorgeous and alone/ face to face"

This past Tuesday marked the release of American rock group Wilco’s sixth studio release, Sky Blue Sky. This time around, Wilco has taken a step back from its signature sound in favor of a more subdued and intimate alt-country style. While it holds much in common with their earlier country-tinged album, Being There, Sky Blue Sky remains distinct with its simplistic friends-in-a-room sound. Nearly everything has been toned down or modified since A Ghost Is Born. The instrumentation is sparser, leaving time for each member to shine while the others wait in the wings. The member that really benefits from this arrangement is guitarist Nels Cline, who tears open almost every track with a solid and memorable riff. Without the sometimes grating guitar noise and general clamor of previous efforts, the guitar work begins to sound more like living, breathing guitar and instead of synthesized whirrs and clanks. Jeff Tweedy’s strained whisper of a voice plays off perfectly against the ephemeral style of the album, sounding naked and live. This nudity is at least partially influenced by the communal processes of the Band, an influence that Tweedy and Co. have been quite vocal about.

Tweedy in a recent Rolling Stone interview: “I always liked the Band as a model -- a bunch of guys sitting around with a typewriter, drinking coffee, writing. That seemed the most fun -- a collective thing. And somehow we ended up being that.”

Somehow indeed. And the results are more than satisfying. Each song, despite its sparseness, maintains a fullness and almost edible tangibility. Building and building and building is the best way to describe the structure behind each song. They often seem to want to explode from the speakers and ooze out onto the floor, but instead deflate back to safety. Every time I listen to the quiet and unassuming Please Be Patient With Me, I half expect the whole band to break into a raucous jam as the finger-picked acoustic guitar morphs into Cline’s electric gold. This building can get frustrating, but always keeps the sound from seeming contrived or conventional. And thankfully there aren’t any streets called Convention on Wilco’s musical roadmap. Immediately after Please Be Patient With Me, everything spills over with Hate it Here. The song seems much like the fragile love song before it until the chorus and Beatles-esque melody crank it up to cosmic proportions.

Last Thursday, two days after the release of Sky Blue Sky, some friends and I went out for a walk around town. As we passed by the house of a classmate attending West Point, we saluted and continued on. That is, until I noticed the pizza delivery guy at his house was blaring Either Way, Sky’s first track, from his car in the street. And so, loved by myself and pizza guys alike, Wilco’s newest is a treat for all.

Wilco – Either Way
Wilco – Please Be Patient With Me
Wilco – Hate it Here

Buy Sky Blue Sky here.



tad said...

that's a very, very nice review. thank you!

Aus said...

You guys have really picked up lately I must say.

Anonymous said...

You know, when I heard Hate It Here, I was thinking that it sounded a bit like a Beatles song. To be honest, I was afraid to say it to anyone because I thought they would tear me apart. I agree with your review and I am really enjoying this album.

Anonymous said...

i just saw tweedy & co in chicago a couple days ago (before they kicked off their big tour). i really loved the new material, it does seem like a throwback... maybe jeff's just getting older