Wilco Balances Consistency and Evolution in Surprise Album “Star Wars”

There’s over a minute of what can only be described as organized chaos in opening track “EKG” before we hear Jeff Tweedy’s voice come in on the second track of Star Wars, the ninth studio album by Chicago’s indie rock darling Wilco. Released as a surprise on wilcoworld.net for free, Star Wars marks Wilco’s first studio album since 2011’s The Whole Love. Tweedy and the rest of Wilco have shown us why the band is still relevant in today’s ever-changing musical landscape, and appealing to a wide range of fans, both young and old.

“EKG” sounds like a musical representation of my frantic scrambling on the Internetz to download the album after seeing early news of its release. I’ll admit, I was skeptical of the rest of the album while listening to this track. However, lucky for us, the album mellows out at the beginning of track 2, “More…” The front half of this album reminds me more of recent releases, such as The Whole Love, in which Wilco adopts a more alternative-rock sound, as opposed to the Americana  sound that defines the band’s early (and most critically acclaimed) albums, such as Summerteeth and universally agreed-upon 2001 masterpiece Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. These opening tracks feature the fuzzy distortion of electric guitar that has become commonplace in their discography as their sound has evolved.

I was beginning to assume that the similarities between Star Wars and the albums of their past were negligible. For example, with clocking in at only 34 minutes, most Wilco albums approach twice the length of Star Wars. However, these assumptions were halted upon reaching tracks 6 and 7. These two songs, “Taste the Ceiling” and “Pickled Ginger,” effectively showcase the old versus the new in Wilco’s discography that encompasses nearly 20 years. These tracks also seem to be the turning point in the album’s sound. “Taste the Ceiling,” probably my personal favorite, offers a slower, more reflective vibe, not unlike the songs that brought Wilco to prominence in the 1990s during the alt-country revolution that they themselves were at the forefront of as Uncle Tupelo (Wilco was formed from the ashes of Tupelo following their breakup in 1994).

Following these two tracks, a regression to Wilco’s older roots can be heard through the rest of the album. This style really helps bring to front Jeff Tweedy’s songwriting prowess that has garnered so much praise over the last twenty years over softer melodies before building up later in the song (check out track 8, “Where Do I Begin,” for an example of this”)

Overall, Star Wars lacks the depth found in their earlier releases, but I would primarily attribute this to the significantly shorter length of the album. However, this is not meant as bad. Wilco releases a fun, yet still objectively solid album that appropriately showcases their unique sound. Lastly, give some credit to Tweedy & company for releasing a completely surprise album in 2015 free of leaks and rumors beforehand, something that is rarely accomplished. This album will get plenty more listens from me in the near future, and I only expect it to get better as time passes.

Final Rating: 6.5

star wars album cover

-Mark Austin



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