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Wilco
The Whole Love - dBpm
FILTER Grade: 87%

By Marty Sartini Garner on September 26, 2011

 

Wilco

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Wilco’s 2002 LP, was a gamechanger for the erstwhile country-rock group from Chicago. It’s an album born and nurtured in a crucible of deep emotional and physical pain, inter-band tension and worry over an increasingly unstable future. Uncertainty permeates the record. “I’ve got reservations about so many things / But not about you,” Jeff Tweedy famously sings on YHF’s last track, and the record’s release into the post-9/11 market seemed nearly prophetic. Even its brightest moments are tinted manila. “I miss the innocence I’ve known.”

But that was then, before financial success and universal acclaim made being in Wilco one of rock music’s most stable gigs. For those whose worlds still wobbled on their axes, 2009’s Wilco (The Album) seemed like a kind of betrayal. Gone were the nervy guitar-sweats and migraine-induced anxiety, replaced with contentment and conventionality. From its cheeky title to its patronizing dismissal of youthful angst, the album seemed to revel in its own sense of settled adulthood. There were no problems anymore.

But of course there are. The Whole Love, the first LP released on Wilco’s own dBpm label, suggests an adulthood just as fragile in the face of contingency as youth; adulthood, though, remembers its successes.

The record opens with “Art of Almost,” a tense, glitchy track built on stuttering drums and surging bass, speckled with electronics and stabs of upstroked guitar. “Tomorrow / I’ll have all the love I could ever ache,” Tweedy sings. “And I’ll leave almost with you.” The song falls into a breakneck krautrock coda just on the cusp of communion; Nels Cline’s guitar streams out rockets and flares on all sides while Tweedy and multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone’s straight-legged playing hold down the center. It’s the group’s most explosive song since 2004’s “Spiders (Kidsmoke),” its closest sonic cousin. The track serves as a benchmark for the rest of the album. There is no consummation here, no real sense of finality. Even the narrator of “Capitol City,” whose hum-along melody suggests Randy Newman with a headache, longs unendingly for his country life and remote lover.

The attempt to cross unbridgeable distances, whatever the outcome, defines The Whole Love. “One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)” closes the album on a 12-minute unwind of brushed drums and gentle plucking. Tweedy stitches a quietly affecting story about the fallout between an aging father and a son who has rejected his religious upbringing. “Something sad keeps moving / So I wandered around,” he sings. “I fell in love with the burden / Holding me down.” The son’s attempt to make amends after the father’s death is twinkled out and faded by Sansone’s piano, closing the album on one final melodic run. Remorse is an expression of love delayed.

The collected texture of The Whole Love—the cooing backup vocals of “Dawned on Me,” Iggy Pop’s sampled shout on “I Might,” Tweedy’s under-the-covers singing on “Rising Red Lung”—is the groaning sound of dissonances converging, like the almost-touch of fingers nearly lacing. On this side of heaven, both good and bad exist. But the distance closes.

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