Wilco sticks to its folk rock beginnings with “The Whole Love”

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October 28, 2011

1:01 AM

“The Whole Love” is, honestly, just another Wilco album, but for followers of the band, this couldn’t be anything but a great thing. With “The Whole Love,” Wilco once again delivers on their legacy of lush aural textures, intelligent lyrics and occasional musical experimentation.

Most of “The Whole Love” is very similar to Wilco’s previous LPs. Gentle and acoustic guitars and piano have been the band’s instruments of choice since “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.” Their lyrics are intelligent and thought-provoking, and even their melancholy tracks brighten any day. Standouts include “Open Mind,” with a breezy, yet highly melodic style comparable to tracks such as “Impossible Germany” on “Sky Blue Sky.” The eponymous track “The Whole Love” creates a call-and-answer effect between vocals and guitar; the style echoes classic tracks “Kamera” and “Jesus Etc.” on “Yankee Hotel.”

Experimentation has also always been a hallmark of Wilco’s works. Although they never shy away from their alternative folk rock roots, they consistently pay homage to their influences and the great rock artists of the past. The haunting opening guitar on “Black Moon” and its dark lyrics , like “past the gate, desert keeps forming underneath the black moon,” nearly reach the transcendent yet ironically peaceful mood of Kansas’s “Dust in the Wind.” Vocalist Tweedy’s neurotic mumbling of “goodbye,” accompanied by a spaced-out closing guitar solo on “Sunloathe” recalls some of Pink Floyd’s greatest compositions.

The largely homogenous LP is sandwiched between two incongruent, though wonderful tracks. “Art of Almost,” the opener of “The Whole Love,” is an angsty and intense piece — through its almost nonsensical lyrics and syncopated jitters we gain a sense of Tweedy’s insecurity about his own artistic reputation, and the track’s closing guitar solo could very well be some of the most frantic and heavy sounds Wilco has ever released. “One Sunday Morning”, the epic twelve-minute finale is a change from Wilco’s normally ambiguous lyrics. It tells the story of a boy who feels relief when his overtly religious father finally passes away. Lilting guitars and accompanying piano drip nostalgia and conflicting emotions.

There are always two things that must be mentioned when Wilco is discussed: the band Uncle Tupelo, of which Jeff Tweedy was a founding member, and the brilliant “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.” Uncle Tupelo broke up in the mid-90s and “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” is nearing its 10-year anniversary. With “The Whole Love,” the band is consciously continuing to distance itself from both. This is the first album released on their new label, dBpm. It was completely recorded and mixed at their own studio called “The Loft.” The band has also experienced no personnel changes since 2004.

If there is one fault with “The Whole Love” (as well as with their past two or three releases) it is that it still doesn’t feel quite as bold as their earlier records, namely “Summerteeth” and their masterpiece “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.” During the early 2000s, critics were hailing Wilco as America’s Radiohead, calling the band brilliant, and lauding the bands innovations and bold rejection of commercialism. Though the only radio station that would ever play Wilco is still NPR, a certain comfort-zone feeling pervades “The Whole Love.” The fact they didn’t expand on the two aforementioned tracks “Art of Almost” and “One Sunday Morning” seems like a missed opportunity. But even though the band isn’t adventurous on “The Whole Love,” and most likely will continue to use their folk rock formula, it still satisfies with many near flawless tracks, exactly what the world expects from Wilco.

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