Tuesday, July 7, 2009

high praise

In this week’s Village Voice, Mike Powell reviewed Wilco’s Wilco (The Album) and made me laugh so hard I damn near soiled myself. You, sir, are an entertaining read.

Here’s a few excerpts from the review:

“Wilco” is a five-letter word for the quiet slaughter of all that is elemental, passionate, and reverentially stupid about rock ‘n’ roll.

Their peak party moments sound like a good time as described by someone who hasn’t actually had one.

Wilco: The Band That Rocks, Within Reason.

I also didn’t understand what critics and friends meant when they would say things like, “Wilco are the American Radiohead.” Wilco are not the American Radiohead. Wilco are maybe six weary Jackson Brownes. Or what sandblasted jeans would say if they could talk*. Listening to Wilco is like finding a rainbow between gray and tan.

*great sentence.

My sentiments exactly. I’ve spent four or five years scratching my head over Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002), wondering how oh why that record achieved a perfect 10.0 rating from Pitchfork and countless “Album of the Year” honors.

That’s not to say it’s a shitty record. “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” and the immaculately produced “Jesus, Etc.” are both brilliant, brilliant tracks, and the other nine--though quite boring--won’t harm you. No true gaggers to speak of. But I fail to understand why critic after breathless critic tripped over their own laces penning adulatory, idolatrous reviews that oughta be reserved for the Radioheads and, say, Will Oldhams of the music world…

…which set me to thinking about other grossly overpraised records. Here’s a short list of recent titles:

1) Portishead’s Third (2008)

2) Peter Bjorn and John’s Writer’s Block (2006)

3) MGMT’s Oracular Spectacular (digital release: 2007; physical release: 2008)

4) TV on the Radio’s Dear Science (2008)


Jesse-G said...

oh Mike..Wilco is much more than Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. But unfortunately that record gets much of the focus, partly b/c of the documentary shot around it and the circumstances the band found itself in [dropped after delivering it then picked up by Nonesuch] .. Obviously the reviewer is not a fan, and I cannot judge since I haven't heard the new record yet, but Wilco's catalogue so far is, 80% of the time in my opinion, genius. People are attracted to Jeff Tweedy's tortured voice, his great lyrics and melodies, and truly interesting pop song structures that aren't really pop. Their rules/patterns for songwriting are very unique, meaning their chord choices and transitions. It's very dificult to pull off and they make it sound easy, which I suppose this critic finds TOO easy, and in that way they ARE similar to Radiohead, who also make very difficult music sound breezy and effortless, but that's where the similarities start and end. Listen to Being There I & II, and see them live. Very different story.

As for the rest of the overhyped bands on your list, I couldn't agree with you more about TV On The Radio. Give me a fucking break with these guys already. I mean "I get it," it's just not for me. Sorry I like "songs" and "melodies" but maybe those elements are so passe. I don't know but they should be the background music for diehipster.com. Utterly mediocre "art"rock [mediocre art if I may] for BillyBurg.

Clitoris Rex said...

a year ago I might have agreed with you, but now I couldn't disagree more. Anthony and I were talking about this last night...Wilco sounds so god damn boring on the surface (which is why they are an easy target for writers with cutesy language) but underneath the surface is a really complex and beautiful band working within a boring medium. They really do "take a few listens to 'get'" (and I HATE saying things like that) but its true. Once you pull out a brick, the whole thing comes down and you can see them for what they are...which is awesome.

The track that did it for me was "on and on" off of Sky Blue Sky...and "Impossible Germany" to a lesser extent.

and this comes from a guy who listens to the bare minimum of music with guitars that aren't broken...and I've never heard Being There.

Elwood said...

Fellas, thanks for the feedback.


Sometimes I wish I were a musician. If, like you, I had well-trained ears and familiarity with theory (I took piano for seven years but have since forgotten much of it), I'd probably be more receptive to subtle "grower" bands like Wilco.

I don't doubt you that their song structures/transitions/etc. are inventive and unique (as compared to other bands of similar temperment), but frankly I don't possess the know-how to spot those qualities without HARD, focused listening. It's kind of upsetting to me, really, because there's so many quiet, unassuming bands out there that I will probably never fully appreciate, simply because I struggle to recognize what they're doing, musically speaking.

That's why I tossed around the term "boring" to describe what little of Wilco's catalogue I've heard. To these ears, that's the only response I could muster after repeat listens of YHF, since the music--aside from the two songs mentioned--failed to strike me on an emotional OR intellectual level. Maybe I need to give it yet another spin.

Reading your reply made me want to seek out more of their stuff (as things stand now, I've only heard YHF and bits of Summerteeth and Sky Blue Sky). Being There has been added to my to-get list.

I still maintain that YHF received far too much acclaim upon release, but that's just one man's opinion.


Your point about Wilco being a "complex, beautiful band working within a boring medium" is pretty spot-on. That's a great way of putting it.

I'm gonna give "On and On" my virgin listen in a few moments.

p.s. On a non-Wilco note, we're overdue for a happy hour beer.

Picante said...

There's a pretty hilarious ass-kicking of Mike Powell's "review" of Wilco up on RipFork right now. I really urge you to take a look at it.

Todd said...

part of the thing i like about wilco is watching the progress from whiskytown to wilco and son volt with jay farrar. it is amazing to look back and see these 2 heavyweights in the same band at such a young age. it is like hogan and snead caddying at the same club as youngsters. jay's work in son volt is highly admirable and i truly enjoy listening to it. the lyrics aren't as clever and high brow as tweedy's, but that isn't a reason not to like either one more. as i grow older, being given punk supplements to get me through my growing years and then drinking indie shakes through my twenties, playing in my own band in my thirties and now, yes, now that I am in my 40's (just turned 40 this summer) i really appreciate wilco. they put out what they want and they don't give a fuck if you like it or not. they aren't afraid to expand the definition of "music" by expanding their definitions of "instruments." like the bike horn on the beach boy's "pet sounds" - still one of the highest critically acclaimed albums ever. i wouldn't have been surprised to look at the album credits and see that brian wilson was the musical engineer on the album. actually, in many ways, i could compare "yankee hotel" and "pet sounds." perhaps that is the reason why people in the know went ahead and said, "yes, this rocked the status quo and i love it. i appreciate it. it is the best album of the year." there are songs for people who want to fuck, fight, die and love. of course, hopefully the same person isn't feeling all those emotions while the record is spinning, but you get the idea. the best reason to like wilco is because my 2 year old picked wilco as the first song she ever sang along with (theologians). it's like bob marley explained love: it so simple and beautiful, even a baby gets it. for the record, i like palace music too (will oldham).