Since the release of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot in 2002, Wilco’s stature has risen to “cool” mainstream, right along with their marketability. With a headlining New Years Eve date at the prestigious Madison Square Garden, they secure a respected place in rock history, not to mention a damn good place to sell overpriced goodies. But for those without tickets, don’t fret, as the latest band merch is now available in bookstores and amazon carts everywhere, with a colorful 165 page book and CD of unreleased material.

The Book

The Wilco Book is most everything you’d expect a coffee table book to be, with “never before seen” pictures, offbeat quotes and other novel printed means to invite you inside the band’s psyche. Like a handsome grant of new Jeff Tweedy lyrics, Wilco fans will eat each word-up sometimes overanalyzing, other times rejuvenating. Though for the casual observer, this book may prove meaningless.

The Wilco Book reads like a record, as the subject matter flows freely without any particular sense of order or chronology. Random pictures of objects, rather than band specific images dominate this hardcover. Photos of telephone poles, tree bark and butterfly collages are mixed in with photos of vintage instruments and sketches that resemble refractive optometry. And of course, in-between are band members in various states of backstage fun that give the hardcover a sense of voyeurism.

New band member and keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen proves the most outspoken, giving bandleader Tweedy a run for his words. Other band members offer thoughts on everything from formal stage dress attire to philosophies on art and recording. The reading is interesting enough, never too revealing, but makes for fresh material aside from the typical print interviews on Tweedy’s rehab stint. There’s even nice perspective quotes on sound from front of house engineer Stan Doty and production manager Jason Tobias.

In addition, there are three essays by Henry Miller, Walter Sear, and Rick Moody. Moody reads deep into each album, picking a few songs and making each album feel like Dylan’s ground-breaking 60’s releases. Great albums they are, but tunes like “She’s A Jar” is no “Like A Rollingstone.” The pictures again make for fun page turning, giving the reader a colorful and bright keepsake of the band. However, for true historical reading on the band, you’re better off reading Greg Kot’s recent Wilco biography, Learning To Die.

The CD

Included within the book of course is the real bonus – a 40 minute CD of 12 unreleased, original tunes. Recorded in three separate sessions called “Improvisations,” “Deadlines” and “Fundamentals,” over the course of 2002 and 2003 for what would later become A Ghost Is Born. The sessions were an attempt for the band to try new things and get to know each other in different musical settings.

The disc begins with “Pure Bug Beauty,” which is full of the complex and moody instrumental experimentation enjoyed in “Reservations” on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. There is a force of quiet effects, matched with a slow piano march and percussions that feel like the song will build to lyrics, but never sings. “This Is New,” is a crawling, stormy slow tune loaded with reverb and a cinematic balance of hope and despair. While “Diamond Claw” is a bright instrumental melody that tinkers with piano and guitar simplicity.

There are some raw spots, like the stark and short “What Good Am I” and “Doubt,” complete with racketing effects. “Barnyard Pimp” sounds just like its ramshackle name implies, a drunken jam. “Here Comes Everybody” runs rampant with a far east percussive touch, resembling a tribal/spiritual yearning, very George Harrison minus the sitar. “Hummingbird,” a standout from A Ghost Is Born is remixed with a techno flair and kick drum that gives its vaudeville feel a minimalist touch, which in the end is more attractive. “The High Heat” is perhaps the most traditional folk number on it, honing a combination of insightfulness and sloppiness. “Rottnest,” interestingly enough features only Leroy Bach on piano and Jorgensen running his laptop, a gap between former and present keyboard players. The closer “Hamani” voyages down another experimental route of recording via a contact microphone the sounds of objects being dropped complete with physical vibrations.

It’s a wonder to think with experimental guitar hero Nels Cline and multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone currently in the band, Wilco could have really made a huge dent in a disc of experiments and improvisation. Having a CD stuck to the back of a book makes for certain suicide when steering a tight corner, but keep this 12 song collection in its own jewel box for late night company and it will definitely grow on you.

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