By Jackson Tarricone
Nearly two years on from their last LP, Chicago folk-rock mainstays Wilco have added another amazing album to their already generational catalogue. This album was recorded in the band’s Chicago studio, The Loft. This really shows through with the very close sound of the record. As far as the placement of this album on the Wilco spectrum goes, from abrasive to pensive, Ode to Joy leans decidedly towards the latter. This is not surprising as Jeff Tweedy’s two solo albums adopted a similar sound. At times it sounds like the softer tracks on Schmilco and even some earlier Wilco albums. Some tracks are reminiscent of Sky Blue Sky such as the very sing-songy “Love Is Everywhere” and Citizens,” the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot-esque uptempo acoustic rocker “Everybody Hides,” and even a bit of A Ghost Is Born through the manic guitar leads of “We Were Lucky.” Maybe it is not the quintessential Wilco album, but it certainly paints a comprehensive picture of how their sound has morphed throughout the years. Nevertheless, the clarity of Ode to Joy stands out when compared to more recent Wilco albums which contain some odd tangents, such as “Common Sense” on Schmilco and even “Art of Almost,” the fantastic but still out of place opener of 2012’s The Whole Love. This album also bears a slight resemblance to Mac Demarco’s This Old Dog and its minimalist folk, although Wilco definitely add a more regal quality to this style.
“Bright Leaves” is such a great introduction to the record. The track gives listeners time to orient themselves in the very spacious intro until the quick reversed guitar sweeps provide some gratification before disappearing again, allowing the track to go up, down and back again while still sounding natural. In the outro, Tweedy repeatedly croons “you never change” in a tone that is simultaneously wishful and hopeless. This is typical of the lyrics on this album, putting a lamentful spin on the cheerful instrumentation. Another example of Tweedy’s famously empathetic lyricism is the line “there is no mother like pain” on “One and a Half Stars.” Interestingly, this exact lyric appears in Tweedy’s “Ultra Orange Room” off Warmer. Ode to Joy is a very comforting listen and seems to understand whatever the listener is going through without sounding watered down.
The second single, “Everyone Hides,” might be the most memorable track on this album the same way that “Magnetized” and “Random Name Generator” were for Wilco’s 9th studio album, Star Wars. This cut has a very inviting pulse, and really showcases every member’s contributions, regardless of how subtle they are. Glenn Koetche’s drums on this track are particularly phenomenal as he subtly changes the feel to add variety and momentum to the song. It’s even a bit dancey during the post-chorus, which is something we’ve never really seen from Wilco in the 25 years they’ve been around. Aside from that, the shaker-kick-snare combination, which Koetche uses throughout this album, fits the material perfectly.
This is a perfect example of how a low energy album can still be amazing. The tracklist is dominated by slow burns, but the writing by Tweedy and execution by the band ensures that this album is extremely captivating. Even on the slightly weaker cuts, there are so many nuances to listen for and appreciate that make this a really enjoyable, engaging listen. The deceivingly sparse sounding tracks are actually full of subtleties. A good pair of headphones is a must for this album because without them, you’d be missing out on so much. The content of the lyrics, albeit somewhat depressing and melancholic, are so resonant that they actually produce the opposite effect in the listener. Unfortunately, Wilco will not be stopping by any of Philadelphia’s venues on their tour for this album, but they are playing two shows nearby in New York City next weekend.