Album of the Week: Wilco, 'Ode to Joy'

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Wilco, 'Ode To Joy'
Wilco, 'Ode To Joy' (dBpm Records)
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On a chilly Chicago day in January, Wilco met up in their studio loft for the first time in about 24 months with one goal, or rather, an anti-goal: avoid referencing other people's records. The guys of Wilco have been making music together under that name since 1994, releasing eleven full length albums (not including their EPs or live albums). It makes sense that in that time they've developed a shorthand in the studio. It's much easier for them to reference the bass playing on a Byrds record to help direct the sound, but they didn't want the easy way out this time around. In an interview earlier this summer with Jeff Tweedy, he shared their new (anti-)goal and said, "It forced everyone to use their imaginations a little bit more, and say things more like, 'I don't think the drums sound despondent enough' or 'That keyboard part just sounds a little bit too chipper'". With words like "despondent" and the takedown of "chipper" Tweedy points to the somber tone of the album, but don't be mistaken, there is plenty of beauty and positivity in the lyrics. The album title isn't sarcasm, this is an Ode to Joy.

Tweedy spoke positively of the bands brief hiatus, "there was always a sense it was delayed gratification, and it just felt like it was worth the wait. There was something exciting about withholding that from ourselves for that length of time because we enjoy each other's company quite a bit". Tweedy mentioned that everyone came together with ideas that they had been playing with during the bands down time and that energy pushing them to try new things. The songs on Ode To Joy take you to different sonic landscapes: a slow, calypso recounting small town tragedy ("White Wooden Cross"); guitar playing that mimics the chugging of a train ("Quiet Amplifier"); a wide open sound of a field ("Before Us"); a dusty and dirty marching dirge that keeps veering towards chaos ("We Were Lucky"). These aren't places that you go to looking for hope, these are locations of desperation and depression.

Wilco's not here for the darkness though. The album is reflective of the times, yes, but there is a shimmer of hope that takes that bitter edge off with lines that sound like the albums thesis, "I have tried my whole life in my way to love everyone" in "Quiet Amplifier". Or, "don't believe you don't care, you got family out there" from "An Empty Corner". Or, "there's so much more out there / I'm blowing my horn for the whole band" in "White Wooden Cross". Or, "I'm worried about the way we're all living and this is my love song" in "One and a Half Stars". These are love songs about trying to find love, maybe romantically-but sometimes it's bigger than that. Sometimes it's about having to create the love you want to see in the world, even with despondent drums.

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