Wilco
Ode to Joy


4.2
excellent

Review

by SowingSeason STAFF
October 6th, 2019 | 110 replies


Release Date: 10/04/2019 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Understated beauty.

My love affair with Wilco began in 2006 with the purchase of a tattered, used copy of Being There. There was something about the faded artwork that made the stripped down, no-frills rock feel authentic; it was as if I had unearthed a previous generation’s gem that for some reason I’d never heard of. Needless to say, diving into the rest of their discography has been a pleasure – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Summerteeth, and Wilco remain semi-classics that each feel inimitable in their own ways. Unfortunately, that’s a sensation that has largely evaded me during Wilco’s modern output – particularly Star Wars and Schmilco – which felt as flimsy and second-hand as the latter album’s title. Just as I began to grow impatient with the band, writing them off after a half-decade of subpar material, Ode to Joy reminded me of why I’ll always be susceptible to their charm. It’s their simplest and warmest batch of songs in nearly a decade, and I’m proud to announce that they’ve recaptured their spark.

Ode to Joy thrives on subtle guitar melodies and superb production. Tweedy’s vocals sink comfortably into the mix, not needing to carry the load on his shoulders as he’s occasionally been asked to do in the past. His voice sounds weary but uplifting, contributing simultaneously to the album’s raw atmosphere as well as its namesake. Each song has a unique groove, with hooks that are just conspicuous enough to draw attention but never so obvious as to be deemed “catchy” – although the penultimate ‘Hold Me Anyway’ comes close. It’s a front porch in the evening sort of record, and in that sense it’s very much akin to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Everything unfurls progressively, with tracks blending into one another seamlessly.

To-and-fro drum beats gradually give way to a flickering electric guitar on opener ‘Bright Leaves’, before an anti-climax casts the track into a sea of wavy, distorted pianos. It’s an excellent barometer of what one can expect throughout Ode to Joy, a piece that deftly balances its assets without ever feeling the need to erupt. One of the best stretches on the entire album starts later with the electric guitar dominated ‘We Were Lucky’ – a track that feels restrained despite its remarkable instrumental display, barely adding in a few sparse-sounding verses between all of the controlled riffing. Then it turns on a dime into the subdued, sprawlingly melodic ‘Love Is Everywhere’; the song still heavily features guitars, but slows the tempo and sprinkles in chime-like piano notes atop the earthy crunch of its drum-driven sonic palette. Right as ‘Hold Me Anyway’ – the frontrunner for radio play if Wilco even gets that anymore – comes to its conclusion, Ode to Joy again pumps the brakes, opting to close the record out with the forlorn, dreary ‘An Empty Corner.’ Again, it’s that anti-climactic feeling, but one that helps anchor Wilco to what they do best – these beautiful, understated indie-rockers that would feel at home any time one is deep in thought.

Not enough can be said about Ode to Joy’s mixing. The record sounds absolutely pristine, and the dedication in the studio shows, bringing out every side of Wilco while presenting them in the best possible light. ‘Quiet Amplifier’ is a masterclass in producing/engineering/mixing, and to be frank, it might be the most gorgeous thing they’ve ever recorded – at least from an aesthetic standpoint. Muted drums thump in the distance, while barely audible acoustic guitars are plucked. As the song progresses everything begins to coalesce, from Tweedy’s romance-struck sweetness (“I tried, in my way, to love everyone / I wish your world was mine”), to prominently shimmering acoustics, swelling synths, and piano notes that gently rain down from the sky like droplets of glass. By the end of the song, each of these facets are ringing out in beautiful harmony, but they’re introduced and integrated very subtly. It’s but one instance of how Ode to Joy is able to elevate itself to the upper echelon of Wilco’s catalog.

Wilco’s eleventh full-length is a love letter to anyone who fell in love with the band’s earliest material. The attention to detail here is noticeable, and whereas many of their later albums have felt pigeonholed as “statements by indie-rock darlings”, this feels more like a retreat or withdrawal. There’s nothing about Ode to Joy that is meant to set the airwaves afire. It’s raw elegance; a surplus of creativity delivered with equal portions of restraint. This beautiful little gem would look perfectly at-home wedged between Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Being There on my vinyl shelf – and yep, I think that’s right about where it belongs.




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Comments:Add a Comment 
SowingSeason
Moderator
October 6th 2019


32423 Comments

Album Rating: 4.2 | Sound Off

The incredible week for music continues. This was better than I expected.

Digging: Jimmy Eat World - Surviving

DoofDoof
October 6th 2019


5809 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

If it’s understated and it’s consistent quality then it’ll be a Doof love 💕

DoofDoof
October 6th 2019


5809 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Quiet Amplifier is the closest Wilco will ever get to recording Animal Collective's 'Banshee Beat'

dmathias52
October 6th 2019


948 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

The last four tracks here redeem this for me. Everything before sounds like co rage Wilco, which is definitely an improvement over their past two albums, but still just doesn’t do anything for me

Digging: Bayside - Interrobang

DoofDoof
October 6th 2019


5809 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

keep listening

DoofDoof
October 6th 2019


5809 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

'Citizens' is the only tune I'm thinking is maybe a little overrated looking at people's reception to it

dmathias52
October 6th 2019


948 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Definitely planning on it. Almost wish I had gone in blind, might have had too high of expectations

theBoneyKing
October 6th 2019


17408 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

Yeah I kind of agree there - I’ve learned not to expect much of recent Wilco/Jeff material so I usually end up pleasantly surprised, instead I heard hype and now this isn’t quite shaping up to it even though it’s better than I had previously expected it to be. :-/

DoofDoof
October 6th 2019


5809 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Listening to Sky Blue Sky today and this is infinitely better than that one - blimey had forgotten what a snore fest that one was. Was super disappointed at the time and it hasn't aged well.



The Whole Love is pretty good though and I bumped Wilco (the album) to a 3.5 because I did like that a lot when it came out

luci
October 6th 2019


11864 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

that middle finger 4/5 bar graph convinced me to check this

DoofDoof
October 6th 2019


5809 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

it's the most 4'y album of the year

juiceviaorange
October 6th 2019


746 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

This album is pretty incredible. As the biggest Wilco fan, I still had my doubts. Proven wrong and then some. This album slowly crawls into your brain and then your heart.

Sunnyvale
October 6th 2019


1184 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Album rules hard

bananatossing
October 7th 2019


919 Comments


What's the best to start with these lads?

SowingSeason
Moderator
October 7th 2019


32423 Comments

Album Rating: 4.2 | Sound Off

For me it was Being There although I'm sure most will tell you YHF.

klap
Staff Reviewer
October 7th 2019


12185 Comments

Album Rating: 3.3

summerteeth is their best. can't go wrong starting with YHF or being there

Digging: Chromatics - Closer to Grey

DamnVanne
October 7th 2019


3155 Comments


Yo any dads in here what up

Pikazilla
October 7th 2019


4956 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

lmao

JasonCarne
October 7th 2019


1067 Comments


Looks like the center fell out of the new Cult of Luna cover.

dmathias52
October 7th 2019


948 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Returned to this and did like the front half more. The detail is appreciated. The test now is if I ever have an inclination to want to listen again. The small details I think are enough to keep me intrigued for another listen



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