Street Sounds: Wilco is still free range

Illinois-based alternative rock veterans Wilco set a new standard for the genre on their ninth album, Star Wars.

Illinois-based alternative rock veterans Wilco set a new standard for the genre on their ninth album, Star Wars.

The group, and especially lead singer/guitarist Jeff Tweedy, had already tired of the term/label alternative before it hit the mainstream back in the ‘90s.

Formed from the breakup of alternative country rock group Uncle Tupelo, Wilco has been chasing many muses in their career and have had memorable bouts of turmoil and ups and downs in their creative quests.  Getting dumped by their record label (Warner Reprise) did the trick.

Star Wars is a classic Wilco album in the sense that it presents the group as adventurous sound seekers, loosely corralled by the wavy structures of Tweedy’s songs.

Although he’s the main writer, Tweedy collaborates freely with other Wilco mates, particularly Nels Cline on guitar and Mikael Jorgensen on keyboards and samples.  This album wastes no time in heading for the fringes of classic-period rock, sharing sonic space with post-Velvets Lou Reed and The Pixies.

Wilco, who have always been abstractionists, play  loose and groovy within structural terms and they tap into the playful tangents of early T-Rex and Magical Mystery Tour– era Beatles on More and Random Name Generator.  It helps that Tweedy’s vocal style hearkens back to an early ‘70s post British invasion sound.

The appeal of Star Wars and Wilco in general is that their unpredictability is still musically grounded and sonically adventurous (You Satellite).

The band’s range is wide: from noise rock (EKG), psychedelic (The Joke Explained) alternative country rock (Taste the Ceiling) to new wave (Pickled Ginger).

Despite the seeming disparity, Wilco’s power is in how they pull everything together into sound and atmosphere based songs. They go at their album with a beatnik jazzman’s dedication to expression and they have fun.

The band’s freewheeling style is contained enough to be understood and has the melodic sheen required to make the music artistic and entertaining. They’re  a rare type of band.

Dean Gordon-Smith is a musician based in Vernon, B.C. who reviews the latest music for The Morning Star every Friday.