Posted by: mattbrownmusings | 10 April 2008

Wilco “Sky Blue Sky”

Maybe you’ve heard of the band Wilco. I originally heard about these guys from my brother in law, and quickly fell in love with their music. It was one of my typical overnight obsessions, where within a short period I procured their entire catalog. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that I embraced their music, since the name Wilco is short for “Will Comply,” and I am a somewhat compliant person (remember, my name is Matt, which means that I let people walk all over me).

At any rate, their latest album Sky Blue Sky is very nice. I recommend listening all the way through on headphones. In doing so, I really feel like I’m in the room as they’re recording it, which I love. Here are some highlights in case you didn’t believe that I listen really closely.

  • The upbeat part of You Are My Face is great, especially the first couple bars. I love the piano native-american-ish lick at 1:33 (just listen for it and you’ll understand). And what’s not to love about a song that uses the word “happenstance” in its lyrics.
  • After some rather laid-back and interesting verses, Side With The Seeds gets heated up on a two-over-three 6/8 feel (giving guitarist Nels Cline a chance to arpeggiate nicely, as he does so well). And who hasn’t stopped to ponder before if they’ll side with the leaves, or the seeds? Seriously, where do they come up with this stuff?
  • After the subdued intro, Shake It Off rolls into a very groovy G groove which then gives way to some vibrato laden guitar licks. This song also includes my second-favorite part of the album: the fleeting dissonance as the guitar walks downward while maintaining the F on top (happens twice at 2:32 and 4:36). And don’t forget the tasteful use of cowbell as a demarcation in the stop-time chorus; Blue Oyster Cult could have certainly taken a page from that playbook (based purely on the impression SNL has given me).
  • I love Hate It Here. If I ever get around to making another “Matt’s Mix” this one’ll probably be on there (and if I ever get around to blogging about “Matt’s Mix” then you might know what I’m talking about). From a thematic standpoint, the verses may seem too upbeat for the subject matter (a man lamenting his loneliness); their simple chord progressions are intermingled by fun and refreshing keyboard flourishes, and Tweedy’s vocals are somewhat hopeful. But the chorus lets the anger and frustration rip in the form of a heavy unison blues progression alternated by shouting vocals and raging drum fills to fill the gaps.
  • If you like major sevenths and ninths (and who doesn’t), then Leave Me (Like You Found Me) is right up your alley. That’s all I’ve got for that one.
  • Lastly, in a surprising twist, the title of the song whose lyrics speak of walking along is spelled Walken (see my reference to the infamous cowbell sketch above). And like Christopher, I’ve got a fever, and the only prescription is more Walken. [Not to beat a dead horse, but note also that Wilco played Walken live on SNL earlier this year.] Anyway, the fun with Walken starts when the group drops out leaving only a lone guitar sustaining a single note in a repetitive rhythm. The rest of the group gradually joins back in, but the original pedal tone and rhythm stays constant until, finally, the entire group lands on that same underlying theme for the conclusion of the song. And it’s within this building finish that I found my favorite part of the album: the first member to rejoin after the dropout is the drummer, and he does so with a fill that is so simple but also so cool, starting with straight eighth notes but gradually allowing them to swing as the rest of the song does (starting at 3:18). I just can’t get enough.

Although I didn’t cover all the songs, these highlights are what keep me coming back for more. The entire album is full of great nuances that you can’t pick out if you’re listening on your iPod while running through a busy city, so get yourself an actual CD or lossless copy, plug in, and enjoy!

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