The anticipation for the needle to hit the wax was almost too much. Wilco has been one of the most impressively prolific bands around in the past decade-or-so.
There’s the landmark Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, the sweet-as-heroine Summerteeth and 2015 left us with fuzzy guitar riffs in Wilco’s very own Star Wars.
Since 2012, Wilco has also been recording their concerts into what they call the “Wilco Road Case,” with the most recent entry being number 55. That’s 55 full concerts recorded in high-quality.
Now, with Schmilco, Wilco has reached their tenth studio release. That’s not even including an EP and the three albums with Billy Bragg to form the three parts of Mermaid Avenue.
Wilco has always made emotional music, and the erratic album art straight from the twisted mind of Joan Cornellà indicates that this record will be no different. Schmilco, however — in its half-hour run time with twelve new songs — is a different beast altogether. Here we see Wilco’s frontman, Jeff Tweedy, returning to his alternative country roots and really taking hold of the reins. The very first song, “Normal American Kids,” a biting criticism of standards for American youth, is a simple composition of two guitars and Jeff’s voice.
It sets the tone for the album exceptionally: as an alt-country album — notably different, in some regards, to Wilco’s past records.
The aforementioned Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is Wilco’s largest cult hit. It featured heartfelt vocals, spacey guitar effects, almost drone-like synth qualities and even a glockenspiel. Many of Wilco’s later albums evoked at least a vague feeling of that record.
This isn’t to imply that Tweedy spent the last few years trying to recapture that sound — he’s very capable of writing things like that again if he wanted to. He obviously didn’t want to, though.
Jeff Tweedy is a man who doesn’t stay in one place too long. So, after 2015’s rock record, Tweedy said “screw it” and made something completely different. I feel that this is the furthest Tweedy has ventured from the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot sound and it’s an extremely fresh, new spin.
Schmilco is soft. It’s like my ears are being bombarded by cushy, feathery pillows. The only catch is that these pillows are covered in tear-stains.
Schmilco is hopelessly depressing, featuring pessimistic song titles such as “Cry All Day” and “We Aren’t the World (Safety Girl).” Each song is headlined by Tweedy’s guitar and his voice, though the rest of the band must be given credit. The second guitar is absolutely wonderful, providing soaring notes that interject between Tweedy’s depression, hinting at maybe just a little glimmer of hope.
Then there’s the drummer who, given the circumstances, does an amazing job. It’s hard to keep inventive drumming when you can’t let loose like in a rock song.
Yet, there’s some amazing snare patterns going on and his abstinence from the crash cymbal keeps these tracks from snapping too hard at your heart. They instead sink their fangs in and chomp down very slowly.
Some of the songs, such as “Common Sense” and “We Aren’t the World (Safety Girl)” are written in — or at least have parts written in — a minor key.
This is typically the best way to snag at someone’s feelings, but Tweedy takes them down a different emotional route.
He has strange pedal effects and consistently wailing guitars take a bit away from the depressing tone and instead just provide an uncomfortable one.
The strings make the hairs on your neck stand and then begin to slowly crawl through them.
It’s these dull hints at an almost harsh noise that I think give this record’s aesthetic a bit more than a simple down-in-the-dumps country album. It’s inventive and Tweedy takes risks.
Jeff Tweedy, whose son is now old enough to play drums with him on his side project “Tweedy,” has never strayed from the music scene for too long at a time. He’s always been there. Touring, writing, recording, releasing.
There’s short hiatuses, yes, but Tweedy is a true musician. He’s a man who can’t be kept from his craft and that’s a sort of dedication that I can’t help but envy.
We need more Jeff Tweedys in the world. Inventive, always changing, and consistently putting out records that can make me cry; Tweedy shows no sign of stopping.
Schmilco is a Jeff Tweedy record as much as it is a Wilco record. Listening to it feels like a short hiatus from the real world, something that Tweedy’s music has never failed to provide. Schmilco is another great record from Wilco and here’s hoping we get many, many more.