Music Reviews
Ode to Joy

Wilco Ode to Joy

(dBpm Records) Rating - 8/10

Leading up to their 11th album, Ode to Joy, Wilco seems confident. They’ve been performing a little more than half of the album on their past tour, a move that's pretty rare for a legacy act. After a few Jeff Tweedy solo records and a tour, the Wilco ringleader returned to the gang and moved them back towards a mainline Wilco title. Which brings us to Ode to Joy, a sad and comfortable statement from a group of pros. It snuggly fits into late-period Wilco following Schmilco (gravely underrated!) and Star Wars (also good!), but it doesn’t have the few problems that plagued them both.

Ode to Joy expands upon those previous two albums, continuing a personal streak that started with Schmilco’s downtempo balladry—but also creating a more unified listen. Starting with the percussive thump of Bright Leaves, there’s a consistent tone throughout with enough variation to maintain its momentum. The production is light and airy—taken over by Tweedy himself—evoking the warmth of a dusty basement. These songs are deceptively simple, with a denseness to the intertwining acoustic guitar licks, snapping snare drums, and rich bass touches. Even when a flickering and snarling electric guitar cuts through Love is Everywhere (Beware), it complements the damp acoustic guitars of the song. The most explosive and eventful moment comes with the fuzzy We Were Lucky, which drags on for five minutes. Luckily, the album course-corrects for a streak of three perfect songs at the end.

The most striking aspect of Ode to Joy is how weary Tweedy sounds. From upfront political themes (Citizenswhich wavers and rumbles with minor harmonies, lines about white lies, and distorted guitars) to thoughts of personal tragedy (White Wooden Cross), there's one clear conclusion: Tweedy is beaten down. But Tweedy is at his best when he's processing that exhaustion—the quiet rallying call of “I can’t escape my domain” on One and a Half Stars is both heartbreaking and wonderful. By the time the song starts gaining momentum in the chorus, there's a comfort to its downtrodden tone. That’s what Ode to Joy does best: it fights against hopelessness by accepting it. [Believe the Hype]