Wilco Embrace Acoustic Sound & Deeply Personal Lyrics On ‘Schmilco’ (ALBUM REVIEW)


13730958_10154279611300421_73933898586819801_oFor the two-plus decades that Wilco has been recording, each album has had its own unique soundscape. From alt-country albums like A.M. and Being There, the pop-rock of Summerteeth, the 70’s roots rocker Sky Blue Sky, or the noise-rock of A Ghost is Born and last year’s Star Wars. Though the band’s tenth studio album, Schmilco, was recorded at the same time as Star Wars, it is far from being just a collection of B-sides from those sessions. Despite its funny, light-hearted name, Schmilco is a fully cohesive album with an entirely different feel and message than its counterpart. Whereas Star Wars is noisier garage-rock with fuzzed out guitars, Schmilco is essentially a folk-rock album made up mostly of subdued acoustic instruments with electric guitar and keyboards lending texture.

Jeff Tweedy’s penchant for poetic lyrics is in full force on Schmilco. “My mother says I’m great/And it always makes me sad/I don’t think she’s being nice/I really think she believes that” are the first lyrics sung on “Happiness,” a song written about his late mother, before launching into the chorus, “Happiness depends on who you blame”. It’s apparent on most songs on the album what Tweedy meant when he described the tone of the album as being “joyously negative.” The opening track “Normal American Kids” is performed with just Tweedy on acoustic guitar while Nels Cline provides some depth with electric guitar notes. Tweedy reminisces about adolescence and not fitting in as he sings “I always hated those normal American kids” before admitting “I hate everything that I don’t understand.”

Over the past year of touring in support of Star Wars, the band would return for the encore with an acoustic set where the band played entirely on acoustic instruments. That feeling is captured on, and possibly inspired by, songs like “If I Ever Was a Child” and “Quarters” which finds the band playing mostly all acoustic with drummer Glen Kotche playing with brushes on a smaller drum set. “Sometimes I wish to set free/the things that still matter to me” Tweedy quietly laments on “Shrug and Destroy”, which plays out as a slow waltz with dark undertones. Wilco’s love of discordant noise jams takes an interesting role on “Common Sense”, where multiple guitars are playing slightly out of synch with each other while an acoustic guitar picks out a riff in a minor chord and sounds similar to some of the jams on the CD that accompanied The Wilco Book. The previously released single “Locator” and “Nope” seem to be the only indication that Schmilco and Star Wars were part of the same session of songwriting with their erratic guitar parts but also form a bridge between the two albums with their acoustic rhythm backing.

Schmilco is the most deeply personal work that Tweedy has written since Summerteeth. So much of it is self-referential and often is about coming to grip with issues in the past. The past also makes itself contemporaneous in the sense that each song seems to take a page from past Wilco releases while still sounding new. Though almost every song on the album clocks in at around the three minute mark, it is a testament to Tweedy’s songwriting that such deep lyrics and meanings can be conveyed in such a short amount of time. With a short time span between releases and the extensive touring surrounding each album, it seems likely that the next Wilco album is years away. However, Schmilco gives fans an album of such depth that the wait won’t seem so interminable.

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One Response

  1. Wow, I like Wilco but didn’t even realize they had a new album coming out! Quality review as well, sounds like it’s a more intimate album and I am always on the lookout for great lyrics. I will definitely check it out.

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