by Philip Moss
Across the opening run of Bright Leaves, Before Us and One and a Half Stars, the title to Wilco’s Ode To Joy seems brutally ironic – such is the hushed, melancholic feel. But the Chicagoan’s eleventh studio album is an agonisingly layered masterpiece that has much lurking beneath the surface.
None of the sprawling, experimental arrangements that characterised some of the band’s most revered work is present here. Ode To Joy is a stripped back affair. The songs predominantly hinge on Tweedy’s world wearied voice, the brushing of acoustic guitars and the muted thudding of Glenn Kotche’s percussive drums. There are moments where it melodically opens up – Everyone Hides’ falsetto could make for a indie pop smash in the wrong hands, and Love is Everywhere (Beware) has a swirling guitar part that’s as much of a hook as its charming vocal refrain.
But Tweedy told Gold Flake Paint that they consciously avoided stereotypical tropes that rock bands can fall into. Quiet Amplifier’s middle eight – where you can sense a guitar solo on the horizon – instead bustles with a pent up, claustrophobic lo-fi energy; a characteristic that is found throughout and that makes this their most enigmatic collection since 2004’s Grammy winner, A Ghost is Born.
Since Wilco’s last LP, 2016’s Schmilco, Ode To Joy arrives off the back of two Jeff Tweedy solo records released last year, WARM and WARMER. Plus, add to that the Tweedy record, Sukierae in 2014, and Wilco’s vastly underrated Star Wars in 2015, Ode To Joy is Tweedy’s sixth release in as many years. Personally, I cannot think of a better run by any contemporary over such an intense period. Here is yet another reason for fans of this special songwriter and band to rejoice.
Secret Meeting score: 90