Trust the Gene Genie

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Sky Blue Sky

It would seem we've gone from laborious U2 posts on the Rob Report to laborious Wilco posts. I guess you can't say I'm single-minded. Or maybe you can. Because we live in America and you can still say whatever you want. For now.

Anyway. On to my point. Wilco's new album "Sky Blue Sky" leaked onto the internets this week and, thinking May all of sudden sounded really far off, I tracked it down and downloaded a copy. And, so far, it's pretty good.

The album kind of follows the natural progression started on "A Ghost Is Born." It's more organic and connected than "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" and it tones down, even more than "Ghost" did, the sonic experimenting and exploring in which they've been engaged since "Being There." And for the most part it works.

One the band's endearing qualities, which I've hit on before on this blog, is their ability to go in a million different directions with their songwriting, their arrangements and their production and still sound like Wilco. I'm guessing that's Jeff Tweedy's influence, but they can stray pretty far afield and still not lose the melody, the lyric, the essential feel that makes Wilco what it is. Elasticity like that is to be commended and I think it's what makes Wilco one of the best American rock bands out there today.

That being said, "Sky" is a little more mellow than what you'd expect from a band that always to seems to crank out two or three loud, disjointed and imaginative tracks on its past albums. Here, Tweedy and Co. just stick to the basics of rock song composition. They take the loud, disjointed and imaginative elements that were whole songs in the past and now just use them to puncuate songs here. For the most part it works, but unchecked, it could get pretty boring pretty quick.

What's interesting is Tweedy takes very noticeable risks with his voice on "Sky." A lot of the songs are in a bit higher range than what he's done in the past, and like the rest of Wilco's experimenting, it works wonderfully here. I mean, Tweedy's vocals are part of what makes the band's sounds so inviting and enjoyable. The guy's just got a great voice.

Semi-new comers Nels Cline's and Mike Jorgenson's influence can definitely be heard here. Which is part of what makes this album sound relatively different than past albums. Jay Bennett, who left the band while they recorded "YHF," was a world-class jerk but he had a great rock sensibililty and great ear for melody. With "Sky" you get a lot more guitar deconstruction and bouncy, R&B inspired rhythms and just plain soul. "Walken" is great example. "Side With Seeds" sounds like a long lost Rev. Al Green song with some Sonic Youth grafted on at the end. Surprisingly, it works. "You Are My Face," "Impossible Germany" and "Hate it Here" are a few other stand out tracks that seem to just get better the more I play them.

The album's title "Sky Blue Sky", which is also the fourth track on the album, is a play on a literary device Tweedy has become enamored with since the "Summerteeth" days when he was singing he needed something in his veins bloodier than blood. So overall, I'm digging it. I'm just not loving it the way I thought I would. So I'll be eager see how it ages.

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