The Whole Love, Wilco – Review

Clattering, grinding. The sound of Garageband or ProTools or C-Lab being abused by a recalcitrant teenager. The sound of KidA refracted through ten years of crystalline experience. That’s the sound of “Art Of Almost”, opener of Wilco’s new album.

And then, and then. Palliative strings relieve the ache, soothe the clatter, oil the grinding. And you remember that Wilco have form, what with Kid A compatriot Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (and arguably, bits of predecessor Summerteeth). After all, they’ve been doing this whole rebirth thing as long as our maudlin, pale-faced Radioheaders. To my mind, a damn sight more effectively.

Tell me. Who would you rather listen to? Griper-In-Chief Thom Yorke with yet another of his apocalyptic millionaire rock star whines, or Jeff Tweedy, a painkiller-addicted, confused artist, who at least has the sense to try to connect to human souls beyond “We’re all doomed!!!”? And to try and make music that doesn’t just copy Warp Records circa 1993? I can’t remember the last time I listened to a Radiohead album all the way through, but Wilco albums still get a regular play round Casa L&L.

Lost In A Loft


So, another album. How do a band like Wilco keep things interesting, eight albums in? They’ve gone from pretty much inventing alt-country with A.M. and Being There, to Going Pop (of sorts) with Summerteeth, then wandering into a whole world of bizarre record company shenanigans and sonic adventurousness with YHF. Since then, there’s been krautrock, quietrock, and something of a return to their rocky, country, folky sound on Wilco (The Album)1. The Whole Love takes their more lively sound of The Album and adds a bit more pep, a bit more chunkiness, and takes away a little of the meandering Nels Cline guitar interludes. In some ways this is A Bad Thing, what with Nels Cline being the greatest living incarnation of the Tom Verlaine style of chiming guitar wondrousness. But then again, you don’t always want your songs to go on for hours on end2.

Indeed, only two songs out of twelve go on for more than four minutes. Fairly short and snappy is order of the day, and even songs like “Born Alone” which start reasonably tamely rapidly burst into life with guitar squalls and all that. The two longer songs, fittingly the opener and closer, both pass by far quicker than you’d expect, with “One Sunday Morning” feeling nothing like its 12 minutes. That number is right up there with gorgeous Wilco greats.

Sitting O

Other times, The Whole Love feels like it could be re-titled The Whole Of Wilco’s Career In One Record. “Born Alone” could happily sit on Summerteeth; with the scansion of “I have married broken spoke charging smoke wheels\Spit and swallowed opioids” reminiscent of “Bible-black pre-dawn” off Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. “Sunloathe” could fit on A Ghost Is Born; “Dawned On Me”, The Album; “Standing O” could be crowbarred onto Being There without anyone noticing too much was amiss. We could go on like this, but frankly I expect both you and I have better things to do with our time. This is in no way a bad thing, and the least you’d expect of a band with so many records under their belt is that it sounds like the last seven albums of theirs. But you do, to an extent, expect Wilco to do something new, even when that something new isn’t always as fantastically listenable as their six-year purple patch.

Combining the sounds of their previous records and throwing in a handful of new ideas works well. Helps too, that Jeff Tweedy’s voice is still on great form, with unexpected treats like “Whole Love” screwballing into falsetto; Nels Cline’s keeps on chucking curveballs your way, and the rest of the band are as tight as ever. Looks like that loft of theirs is a good place to be making albums then. Maybe recording in the place where they’ve been practising and writing records for all those years has brought ghosts to the surface?

In the grand scheme of things, The Whole Love is nowhere near the best thing they’ve done. Certainly a far more lovable record than anything they’ve done since YHF, The Whole Love at least makes you want to listen again, and again, unlike good chunks of The Album or A Ghost Is Born. Time will tell, of course, but slowly, slowly, the album’s been building up into one big earworm. A solid 7, going on 8.

The Whole Love is out today.

1 Still one of my favourite album titles ever.
2 Wilco are the only band I can recall seeing in the last ten years where I’ve gone to the bar during a song, what with me being a borderline neurotic freak that can’t walk away from a band I like whilst they are playing3.
3 On which note – I didn’t go to gigs for years for fear that they wouldn’t live up to my expectations. I’d only do festivals, as though that made it somehow better. Only a friend dragging me to see The Go Betweens reunion gigs got me to stop being such a dick4.
4 I’m still a dick in all sorts of other ways though.

(Photo courtesy of the marvellous LoftLife Magazine)

Ostatniego Polskiego Sniadanie

Until about a fortnight ago I’d never heard of Michael Chapman. Browsing a review of Glenn Jones’s The Wanting, and searching for the CD on Amazon, the recommendation engine did it’s usual “People who browsed for this also shopped for” and Michael Chapman’s “Trainsong” caught my eye. Don’t know about you, but I usually ignore this, but for once I thought I’d give it a try.

How glad am I. For this record is a work of huge beauty. Chapman, now 70, has re-recorded 26 of his songs from his long career; just him and an acoustic. No vocals, no overdubs, nothing. And for a man who has belatedly come to love the fingerpicking style of mighty modern troubadours M Ward and Iron And Wine, this is manna from heaven.

Songs vary in style from John Fahey style slide (on the cunningly titled “Fahey’s Flag”), through beautiful meditations on nature (“Caddo’s Lake”), haunted country (“Slowcoach”), flamenco, blues, and even branch into Durutti Column style arpeggios (“Sensimilia”). 26 songs of character and grace, beautifully packaged with notes explaining the song’s origins, and, best of all from a sausaged-fingered galoot like me, the tunings he uses to make such gorgeous music. So a sausage-fingered galoot like me can spend happy hours murdering them to his heart’s content.

You can just picture yourself sitting in a log shack next to a lake, surrounded by forests and mountains, warm summer breeze gently rustling the threadbare curtains, whilst he plays these songs to you, the sound is that immediate. A fantastic record, which I cannot recommend enough. Go buy

MP3: The Last Polish Breakfast by Michael Chapman

It’s The Predictable Blog Post Title (And I Feel Fine)

So, R.E.M. That’s it, is it? We’ve finally reached the end of our road together? Yes, I know the magic has been gone a long, long time. I know we’ve gone our separate ways. Yes, you were so special, back in our younger days when you could throw out albums like Out Of Time and Automatic For The People as easy as breathing. Those days when just hearing a single note could make my heart rush and beat like crazy. But we both know those days are far behind us. And you know, I love others now. It’s been a long time.

But let’s just remember the good times, eh? All those wondrous, majestic songs. All those memories, those cadences, those heartstrings pulled with the simplest touch of your voice or a gracefully plucked guitar string. Those words.

May the Lord in his heaven shine down on you, my friends, my saviours.

MP3: It\'s The End Of The World As We Know It (Acoustic) by R.E.M.

You Don’t Need Me To Tell You To Buy Their Stuff, Do You?

The Morning Kills Us All

Cheery miserablists The Twilight Sad have been one of the high points of the musical world in the last few years. Unlike friends and compatriots Frightened Rabbit they aren’t for everyone – in that, if someone tells you they don’t like Frightened Rabbit you know for a fact they are cloth-eared buffoons, whereas you can understand that James Graham’s catharsis overlain by the kind of noise that would make even mid-80’s Swans band members go “Steady on there, chaps” isn’t for everyone. But when you are in the mood, the likes of “I Became A Prostitute” and “Cold Days From The Birdhouse” scratch an itch that few other bands can reach.

They’ve just announced that a third album called “No-One Can Ever Know” is coming in February 2012, and to celebrate this, they’ve released a free taster named “Kill It In The Morning”. First impressions are that they clearly haven’t cheered up one little bit, and that they’ve been playing with the keyboards a tad. A bit of variation in their sound is definitely welcome, as the last thing you want to happen to this lot is that they get stuck in a feedbacky rut. Saying that, I’d love to hear a bit more of the acoustic side they showcased on their Acoustic EP. Variety is the spice of life and all that. Or at least, that’s what I tell the mi[REDACTED]

Head over to for more information, and go and buy their albums if you haven’t already done so. You’re missing out if you haven’t, trust me.

Oh, and see them live too.

MP3: Kill It In The Morning by The Twilight Sad (Low bitrate. If you want the proper, 320kbps version, go and sign up on their website)

It’s Not Too Late To Just Turn Back

Fanfarlo’s “Fire Escape” is one of those songs that sits on my iPod, and once in a while, as I’m idly scrolling around looking for something to play, makes me go “Ooooh, now that’s a good song, I might listen to that”. And I do, enjoying it greatly. From the opening Grandaddy-style keyboard arpeggios to the closing whistles, “Fire Escape” is a song you can’t help but love. Yet for some strange mental blocking reason, I’ve never gone the whole hog and bought the album from whence it stems.

So it pleases me no end to hear they’ve got a new album coming, and one which, I hope, drives me to making a bit more of a bloody effort. Lead single – well, ok, lead track to be released to us folk that sign up to their mailing list – is named “Replicate” and comes with a funky video with lines and circles and whatnot, a bit like the video to Bohemian Rhapsody as imagined by a Russian Futurist in 1913.

The album is out, errrrr, soon, and is called, errrrrr, look over there! *runs off in other direction*

MP3: Replicate by Fanfarlo

MP3: Fire Escape by Fanfarlo

Buy “Reservoir” Here

Being Boring

There’s much to be said of music that isn’t too exciting. Apropos of The Word’s recent review of Jonathan Wilson’s Gentle Spirit, sometimes all you want from music is a nice mid-tempo, easy-rock Laurel Canyon sound to sooth those frazzled neurons trounced by a day of deadlines, interpersonal crises, political shenanigans and people just being, without being too rude, bloody idiots.

Look, I like – scratch that, I loveRussian Circles and Psychic Paramount and PJ Harvey and other such challenging music1, but not every day. Which is where wonders such as Cotton Jones or Lambchop or even Yo La Tengo come in; beautifully understated music, intelligent and soulful enough to engage, but not too clamorous.

Back to ol’ JW. Having read that his debut CD is a wistful, gentle thing, I thought I’d give it a try, as my poor little brain’s been taking a bashing lately. Gentle Spirit is a charming record, what with his warm, soft voice and non-more-easy-rockin’ guitar, but after a couple of listens you’re left feeling a little unsatisfied. Problem is, he’s not good enough at self-editing; songs go on for six or seven minutes pleasantly enough, but when you’re there for that long, you need to be doing far more with it. Six minutes is just too long for a single idea, no matter how nicely you put that idea across. This year I’ve been reacquainted with Low’s Laser Beam – one idea, just under three minutes. No more. Look, we’re all old enough round here to not bother with ten minute polite wig-outs like “Valley Of The Silver Moon”. Without meaning to sound rude, the album does have a tendency to go a little bit Richard Ashcroft.

Which brings me onto Bella Union themselves. Lovely label, but sometimes strangely conservative given the two co-founders history. Yes, I know Explosions In The Sky and Department Of Eagles are on there too, but something a bit more, well, majestic might not go amiss.

Anyway, back to Mr Wilson. Nice record, if you can excuse the length. Might be good for your morning commute.

1 Yes, I know she’s just won the bleedin’ Mercury award, but an elegy to England’s lost souls from its wartime misadventures isn’t always what you want on a packed Jubilee Line tube at rush hour.

MP3: Desert Raven by Jonathan Wilson

Buy “Gentle Spirit” Here (CD/MP3)

The Songs That Win Awards

Congratulations to PJ Harvey, who tonight won the 2011 Something Something Mercury Award, the most important music award in the UK. It’s the second time she’s been the winner; first time round, in 2001, announced on that fateful day, for an album that was a love letter to New York. This time, she’s won for an album that distills the last ten years of war, putting them in historical context of England’s role in previous wars (mostly The Great War).

And you have to say, she’s probably the most worthy winner (along with Elbow) ever seen. Once I finally got round to listening to it, I realised that this was something special. Sounding unlike anything she’d made before, yet distinctly her own sound, this was a record that dragged you into her world, with all resistance rendered useless. Sometimes making you laugh out loud (“What if I take my problem to the United Nations?”), sometimes wince in sympathetic pain (“I’ve seen and done things I want to forget”), you were left in no doubt that this was a very special record from a very special artist.

Whilst the other records were about love and losing it, being young, getting old, all that usual stuff, there was nothing that could touch this record, lyrically or musically. Whilst I rather like the King Creosote/John Hopkins and Elbow records (James Blake? You’re having a laugh), Let England Shake was so far out in front that any other winner would have had to go up to the podium and just go “You’ve made a mistake” (much like Arctic Monkeys charmingly did – “Someone call the police, Richard Hawley’s just been robbed”).

If you don’t have it already, buy it. Buy it now. GO!

MP3: The Words That Maketh Murder by PJ Harvey

Go And Buy “Let England Shake” NOW