Wilco’s tenth studio album is their fifth long player with their present six piece line-up, and notably their second record in just over a year, following the surprise release last summer of Star Wars. A rich period of creativity led to the band opting to block their output into a ‘louder and harder’ category (Star Wars) and a ‘more modest in volume and expression’ grouping under evaluation today.
Jeff Tweedy spoke in advance of giving himself the permission to complain. Wilco songs have often had a dark underbelly and from the off there’s a sense of him having a bit of fun lyrically, the likes of ‘Normal American Kids’ and ‘If I Ever Was a Child’ are very simple and stripped back musically, underpinned by vocals delivered with a sneer and a smirk.
Schmilco very much eases into being; it’s primarily a hushed, delicately recorded piece. The most commonly heard sound is that of an acoustic guitar recorded through a microphone placed slightly too close, of a delicately brushed snare drum. Arrangements are sparse and there’s a feel of the recording being done live in a room, all underpinned by Tweedy’s rich vocal. Glenn Kotche’s often wildly experimental percussion has largely been pegged back to a minimalist extreme (with the exception of the drums on LP closer ‘Just Say Goodbye’, which intriguingly appear to have been recorded in stereo). Things take a turn for the better at the midpoint of the LP, with a run of four tracks that proves a real delight.
‘Common Sense’ lopes along, Tweedy rambles through a stream of consciousness – “At the moment I’m bored” and it’s equally invigorating and woozy, squally and discordant. ‘Nope’ is a hugely enjoyable glam-tinged romp, while ‘Someone To Lose’ is a classic sounding Tweedy composition, with a dose of darkness to offset the sweet chorus “I hope you find someone to lose today” and ‘Happiness’ rounds out a delightful quarter of tracks, again embracing a darker undertone (“Happiness depends on who you blame”).
From here, the LP strolls to a close with a firm exception in the case of ‘Locator’, which was the earliest taster released of Schmilco, and is something of an outlier on this album, a more raucous proposition, and all the more memorable for that. There are no weak tracks per se, but undoubtedly some that prove forgettable to an extent.
It’s immensely pleasing to see Wilco continue to deliver solid LPs bursting with good ideas, even if not all of them are fully realised. Schmilco is concise and to the point, the sound of a band in a room, having a good time and displaying their versatility.