Music Reviews
The Whole Love

Wilco The Whole Love

(dBpm) Rating - 7/10

In a recent interview with Men’s Journal, Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy defended the presumptive idea that their discography falls under the annals of dad rock.  Accepting the label without the slightest shame, he went on to describe how those who follow that belief often misconstrue it as a prolongation of what rock used to be in its heyday. He’s right: rock music may not be the brand of choice for today’s youth, but the fact its construct continues to thrive doesn’t mean it's outside generational bounds. Considering that modern acts like Kurt Vile and Cass McCombs are embracing the purity of roots-driven rock, it looks like guitars still share an important place in today’s music taxonomy.

Having formed Wilco in his late twenties, it’s a virtue for Tweedy to hit his stride in his thirties, especially when those who reach a creative zenith too soon (ex. Strokes, Interpol) oftentimes struggle with reinvention, thus, facing dismissal. Tweedy, always the modest spokesperson, doesn’t give him or his bandmates due credit for actually giving country-rock a new face with a stretch of genre-bending albums that went far beyond its established parameters. The Whole Love, the first under their own label, dBpm, finds them in an ongoing battle to avoid falling for convenience whilst accepting that traditionalism is something they can’t ignore because they execute it well.

If Wilco (the album) at times felt like background padding for a water cooler conversation, then album opener The Art of Almost wants to discharge you for taking it safe and not taking the risk. The seven-minute jam session pulses an arrhythmic robotic beat over a shroud of grandiose string work for the first half, gradually building up into one of those Nels Cline guitar freak-outs that leaves one dehydrated, gasping for air with an exhilarated pulse. Wilco likes to commence with bold, jolting affirmations, but they just as much know how to align with brisk experimentation while they take a breather. Just like the transition between I Am Trying to Break Your Heart and Kamera in Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, I Might is just as taxing, delivering a feel good anthem that, in fact, excoriates unsettling guitar lines and muffled bass tones over twinkled adornments with a devilish grin.

Once Wilco blazon forth their centerpiece, the remainder of The Whole Love takes a more familiar form that embraces self-assurance, even if those lopsided moments sum the overall experience. Both the jerky rouse of Born Alone and the pensive acoustic melody of Rising Red Lung equally incite a familiar churn of spick-and-span, if slightly acidic arrangements very much in the vein as A Ghost is Born. That same multifaceted edge permeates throughout – Born Alone is a typically buoyant effort that holds tight until it fades out with a Who-like coda, while Standing O proudly boasts a light show spectacle that could cheer a sporting event, or improve the shoddy sequencing in Billy Joel’s Storm Front

Speaking about the spirit of 1989, Capitol Hill really conjures the image of strolling down Wrigley before the big game – its fanciful array of ambient street effects and organ swells gives it an “oh, golly” charm that eerily recalls a Randy Newman film score. If anything, their reliance to twist late-eighties nostalgia glistens with an All-American sheen, much like eating Cracker Jacks in a ball game, tuning in to Sam Malone play therapist on a 28 inch Magnavox, or praying for an imminent ending to the Cold War.

The Whole Love is precisely an answer to those who relegate the kind of music Wilco makes as old-timey. Having gone through every imaginable manifestation (even more for an alt-country band), there’s not much to expect from them except the guarantee that they’ll write the damndest songs with a spike of psych-leaning susceptibility. But as much as they rely on being stringently peculiar, what really makes them so listenable is their penchant for handling expertly songwriting with an effortless stroke that is second to none in their field. As Wilco have proclaimed they’ll be in it for the long run, they’ll continue to trail off the beaten path as they age, even if their grown up nephews will inevitably show concern. And that, in essence, will always make them look younger than their years.