Pitchfork about this album:
Jeff Tweedy leads a band of escape artists—”ex-Uncle Tupelo,” „alt-country,” „dad rock” are all boxes from which Wilco has managed to break free. Their most recent restraint has proven trickier because it essentially translates to „Wilco”. Between the self-conscious retromania ofWilco (The Album) and the self-produced, self-released The Whole Love, their last two LPs strove for comprehensiveness, containment, cohesion. They were rightly received as „Wilco being Wilco” and offered „something for everyone” except potential new listeners, drawing boundaries around their old ideas. In a concrete way, Wilco’s ninth studio LP Star Wars is their most accessible and least demanding, a free download equalizing the Wilco evangelist and those who swore they’d never pay one red cent for their music. Star Wars is also Wilco’s shortest and least agenda-driven album since their debut, two things that actually lend it a novelty that endures beyond its instantaneous release.
For its first minute or so, Star Wars sounds like a record Wilco might have been required to give away for free. The skronking opener „EKG” has drawn valid comparisons to both Sonic Youth to AIDS Wolf, though it’s one of Wilco’s least jarring experiments in instrumental noise—compare it to the 15-minute migraine simulation of „Less Than You Think” or „Poor Places” submerging in a drowning pool of static and „EKG” is downright charming. It’s the first thing you might expect to hear from a band trying to familiarize themselves with each other after their longest break between records. It’s playful rather than confrontational, deflates any kind of self-importance projected on the band, and aligns with the $0 asking price, lawsuit-baiting title, and feline cover art—this record is loose, low-stakes, and fun, adjectives that no one has used to describe Wilco since Being There.
That’s something of a feint. Star Wars bears many signifiers of an off-the-cuff recording—the second-longest track is 3:50, and most are filled with all manner of „what’s this pedal do?” sound effects. The topsy-turvy glam-folk of „More…” becomes cemented in thick distortion, a theremin-like squeal seeps through the otherwise subdued „Taste the Ceiling”, „Where Do I Begin” backflips into a coda of reversed drums. But think back on a decade of Wilco songs that regularly rode triple-guitar soloing past five minutes and ask if Star Wars is really the sound of them jamming. This is Wilco at their most concise and airtight; the frayed edges, loose wires, and sonic pockmarks are all considered decisions coming from a group of technical wizards with unconventional tastes that treat post-production like a tattoo artist, engaging in very detailed and skillful defacement.
Any discernible influence is unlikely, but Star Wars could be heard as a long-awaited convergence with Spoon, the band who overtook Wilco as America’s most reliable and subtly inventive band in the studio. As with Transference or Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Star Wars scans as pop songwriting and rock music, though devoid of blunt force and obsessed with tactility, right down to the word choices. As with „War on War” and „Impossible Germany”, „Random Name Generator” takes a phonetically catchy, abstruse phrase and repeats it until it becomes an unshakeable hook. It’s a veritable sonic topographic map, every single instrument close mic’d and enlarged to show texture: Tweedy’s comforting and disheveled vocals are audio two-day stubble, drums get dipped in bristling flange, you can pick out exactly which pedals on Nels Cline’s effects board are being used.
Star Wars quickly develops its sonic character, and if it must have a label, „mini-rock” suffices. For one thing, these are the most compact and aerodynamic Wilco songs, aligning with a host of new-to-them glam precedents who punctured rock’s chest-puffing machismo. The pinched EQ’ing and stylishly sheared fuzz riffs of „Random Name Generator” tips a top hat to T. Rex; the Suicide-al „Pickled Ginger” removes the „blues” from 12-bar blues and replaces it with post-punk rigidity and blacked-out negative space; „You Satellite” continuously wraps itself in seemingly endless layers of high-thread count bedsheets, recalling the unsavory reveries of Velvet Underground.
And while nothing on Star Wars can cut you into ribbons the way „Via Chicago” or „I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” or „At Least That’s What You Said”, it’s piercing and subtle enough to get under your skin. Compared to the sadsack reflections on domestication of Sky Blue Sky, Star Wars strikes at a kind of empty nester fatalism signified by the „separate, but together” connection of „Where Do I Begin”, or, more succinctly—”We’re so alone/ We’re never alone.” The narrative of Star Wars is driven by a fluid mix of devotion, commitment, and stubbornness, three qualities that are related but not synonymous. „I could never leave behind the part of me that you refuse,” is the sort of thing you might hear from a couple who are comfortable enough to snipe at one another, while, „Why can’t we tell when we’re in hell?/ Why can’t I say something to make you well?” speaks to the desperation underlying most prickly jokes. „Taste the Ceiling” hard-sells the LP’s most important lyric, the one that attests to unusual urgency of Star Wars: „Why do our disasters always creep so slowly into view?” Perhaps disasters are always in the frame, but judging from the communication failures andspeakers-speaking-in-code that goes on here, it’s more likely they don’t get called for what they are until its too late.
While you never can really tell with a lyricist as cryptic and elliptical as Tweedy, Star Warshints at a congruence between his own cautious confessions and Wilco’s sensible risks—while this could just be a dry run for a conventionally released „event”, the fact that they’re challenging themselves is rewarding enough on its own. Though Sky Blue Sky was met with the coolest reception of any Wilco album, it’s the one that remains the most interesting since A Ghost Is Born—like every record from Wilco’s elite run that spanned the kaleidoscopic roots-rock archive of Being There to A Ghost Is Born’s abstract Americana, it was fully committed to an idea Wilco hadn’t tried before. Because Wilco sounds about 85% committed to a truly new idea, Star Wars is their strongest record in a decade; and if Wilco have another truly great one in them, history strongly suggests it’ll be devoted to sounding nothing like Star Wars.”