Wilco: Cousin review – a band rediscovering their experimental side | Wilco – The Guardian

Much could be gleaned from the fact that the opening track of Wilco’s 13th album, Infinite Surprise, also provided the album’s working title. Its predecessor, the double “Cruel Country,” felt like a comforting post-COVID retreat and a takeover of the alt-country tag that frontman Jeff Tweedy had done his best to avoid since Wilco’s inception, as he had helped define the genre with his former band Uncle Tupelo. However, Infinite Surprise suggests things are moving forward again. As is the presence of an outsider in the producer’s chair: Welsh singer-songwriter Cate Le Bon, who is clearly tasked with shaking things up in the same way that Sonic Youth alum Jim O’Rourke did on “Yankee Hotel “Foxtrot” in 2001 and “A Ghost Is Born” in 2004, albums that earned Wilco the unwanted moniker “America’s Radiohead.” A generation younger than the band (her parents were fans and when she took the job, Tweedy happily suggested she text her dad to tell him), Le Bon caught their attention with a radical, angular deconstruction of A Ghost Is Born’s Company in 2011 My back for a heritage rock magazine tribute CD.

The artwork for Cousin.The artwork for Cousin. Photo: Azuma Makoto

That “Le Bon” brought Wilco’s artistic, experimental side back to life is clear from the start: While “Cruel Country” began with an acoustic guitar playing an old-fashioned waltz pattern, “Infinite Surprise” begins with an explosion of gauzy abstract, echo-saturated ones Guitars and rumbling distortion starts as suddenly as if someone had pressed the record button in the middle of something. Little by little, a sweet, sad song emerges, driven by a relentless mechanized ticking and occasional hits of percussive noise in place of a drum track. Twice it threatens to reach a crescendo: the first time, it dissolves into dizzying, shoegaze-like guitar; In the second case, it disappears completely and is replaced by crackling static.

It provides a handy introduction to the album’s sound. The rest of “Cousin” isn’t quite as blurry, although the fabulously confusing “A Bowl and a Pudding” comes close: menacing strings, a folky, finger-picked guitar pattern that gradually takes on a hypnotic quality, and what appear to be two lead vocals , who get out of phase with each other. But even the more straightforward titles contain a subtle, appealing note of weirdness. Ten Dead is given a sense of unease by the eerie string arrangement and the noise that rumbles quietly in the background. You could compare the sound of the slide guitars on “Evicted” to those on George Harrison’s early ’70s albums if they weren’t doused with so much reverb that they had a spectral feel. Even “Soldier Child,” perhaps the most direct track here, has a slightly hesitant, stumbling quality to its twangy guitar solo and a gently woozy moan over the synths lurking way back in the mix.

Wilco: Cousin – Video

Bursts of static and noise, guitar tones that connect the dots between the momentum of the pedal steel and the sickly, distorted, eerie electronics: one could argue that none of this is miles away from the sound of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. but “Cousin” still seems to be a significantly different album than its lauded forebear. For one thing, there are moments that feel completely out of place for Wilco. The title track is choppy and slightly reminiscent of Talking Heads. “Sunlight Ends” is deliberately rough and demo-like, with a stop-start beat beaten out by a drum machine, a complex guitar line fluttering over it that’s not quite in rhythm, and a slightly out-of-tune bass.

Furthermore, the overall sound, with its fuzziness and hesitations and moments of fragility and breakdown, fits the mood of the album: no one comes to a Wilco album looking for light-hearted emotional uplift, but the anxieties expressed here feel different, entirely and even the product of an author 20 years older than the author of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. “I love taking my meds like my doctor said,” Tweedy sings on Levee, before exploring the limits of a long-term relationship: What if, after all this time, your partner finally had enough of dealing with your problems and weaknesses? ? There’s a brutal honesty in the weariness with which Ten Dead greets the news of another mass shooting: “10 more, 11 more, what does one more mean to me?” sings Tweedy. It doesn’t feel angry so much as defeated by the grinding inevitability of it all. His immediate reaction to the news when he wakes up is to want to go straight back to bed.

Cousin isn’t a completely unprecedented left turn, but neither is it a direct revival of past successes. It is something different; An album that feels simultaneously familiar and different, satisfying and unsettling. Here is a band that, even 30 years into their career, is still evolving in their own way, which is an endless surprise in itself.

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