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Wilco - Cruel Country - New Album


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On 6/5/2022 at 1:22 PM, SarahC said:

I’m listening it just doesn’t spark for me. I don’t know why. 

 

It's not that I don't like this or the recent TWEEDY albums as they are playing, but after a listen through I couldn't remember a single tune from it. There are plenty of albums I haven't liked initially that I have grown to love (Being There being a case in point from the Wilcos when it was my first proper Wilco after loving Mermaid Avenue - the first I had heard at all from them), but it's not a good sign. The songs don't flow in my head - always some lyric or change in rhythm that jars - I remember the same was true of Wilco The Album (though there were some tracks I liked immediately there). I do like 'proper' country. I will try harder :-)

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I'm having a complicated reaction to this album that seems to be rooted in competing sensors and expectations. Most of all, I respond to Wilco's multifaceted muse; I love both chaotic and folksy

So, thoughts on the album - it's a bit on the long side:   I'll be upfront and say that I'm simply thankful for Cruel Country because it's given us "Country Song Upside Down". When this land

It's hard to express how deeply I love this new album and can't wait to hear it at Solid Sound. I've been hoping Wilco would do a "country" album for a long time, but the direction of the past three m

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On 6/6/2022 at 3:44 PM, 5hake1t0ff said:

 What I have a very hard time accepting are those who say it's a continuation of Jeff's solo work. There are just so many sonic flourishes and carefully crafted bits that, to me, distinguish Wilco's work from all others, including Jeff's solo albums.

 

I've never listened to a Jeff Tweedy solo album, so I don't know exactly what the comparison means.  But I think people might be making that comparison because Jeff's singing is SO at the forefront all the way through this record.  There are sonic flourishes, etc. from the band, but for the most part, they don't bubble their way to the surface and take the lead like they have throughout most of Wilco's discography.  You have to listen intently, multiple times, with headphones, before they reveal themselves.   One could say that's a reward for active listening.  But I suspect many would prefer if everyone, including Tweedy's vocal, had to chance to sit in the front and back seats from time to time, allowing everyone in the band to make prominent musical statements.  Some segment of the fanbase prefers more of an ensemble approach than a leader/backing band approach, which is what this record is.

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1 hour ago, jff said:

But I suspect many would prefer if everyone, including Tweedy's vocal, had to chance to sit in the front and back seats from time to time, allowing everyone in the band to make prominent musical statements.

Specifically on the vocals, I do wish Jeff would let other singers have a shot sometimes on the albums. Workingman's Dead is one of my favorite records, but who doesn't enjoy it more when Jerry's not singing every single track?  (American Beauty, four singers!). I think A.M. benefits from John's lone turn at the mic.

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1 hour ago, jff said:

  Jeff's singing is SO at the forefront all the way through this record.

 

Really interesting post. Are you referencing a change you perceive in the mix of Wilco albums of late/this album in particular? Or, are you referencing a change to how the songs are written/arranged?

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1 hour ago, 5hake1t0ff said:

 

Really interesting post. Are you referencing a change you perceive in the mix of Wilco albums of late/this album in particular? Or, are you referencing a change to how the songs are written/arranged?

 

Arranged, I suppose, though it probably has something to do with the mixes as well.  The songs used to be arranged in such a way that significant portions of a song would be set aside for the instrumental track to develop and build, or go near silent, or take off in a surprising new direction.  For example, Muzzle of Bees, You Are My Face, Hell is Chrome.  IMO, one of the more creative things Wilco does is finds unexpected places and ways for the instruments to do the talking (and I don't mean guitar solos).   I feel that if this is still something they do, they've gotten too subtle with it and are over-relying on the lyrical direction of the song.

 

TL;DR:  The lyrics didn't used to tell the whole story.  Now they do, and that's less interesting to me.

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This is the gist

It goes

Like this

 

(one of my favorite parts of CC that, I think, illustrates exactly what you're saying you love about Wilco). Also, see Bird Without a Tail/Base of My Skull and Many Worlds and the instrumental melody that is the climax in the middle of The Empty Condor.

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3 hours ago, jff said:

 

Arranged, I suppose, though it probably has something to do with the mixes as well.  The songs used to be arranged in such a way that significant portions of a song would be set aside for the instrumental track to develop and build, or go near silent, or take off in a surprising new direction.  For example, Muzzle of Bees, You Are My Face, Hell is Chrome.  IMO, one of the more creative things Wilco does is finds unexpected places and ways for the instruments to do the talking (and I don't mean guitar solos).   I feel that if this is still something they do, they've gotten too subtle with it and are over-relying on the lyrical direction of the song.

 

TL;DR:  The lyrics didn't used to tell the whole story.  Now they do, and that's less interesting to me.

It's definitely an arrangement and a mix thing. In addition to the songs' dependency on the vocals, as you mentioned, I notice how all these songs are built so tightly around Jeff's acoustic rhythm guitar (arrangement). Jeff's acoustic strumming is also much more prominent relative to the rest of the band's playing (mix). Their playing is there, very tasteful, but it's subtle and less up front. Jeff's rhythm guitar has always been there in the past, of course. It's just that it wasn't as ever-present as it is these days. 

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37 minutes ago, DiamondClaw said:

It's definitely an arrangement and a mix thing. In addition to the songs' dependency on the vocals, as you mentioned, I notice how all these songs are built so tightly around Jeff's acoustic rhythm guitar (arrangement). Jeff's acoustic strumming is also much more prominent relative to the rest of the band's playing (mix). Their playing is there, very tasteful, but it's subtle and less up front. Jeff's rhythm guitar has always been there in the past, of course. It's just that it wasn't as ever-present as it is these days. 


I think those are some good observations, but I also think they only describe about half the album. The guitar playing by all the guys has become more rhythm and textures in the last two to three albums than riff and solo-heavy, for sure. I’m not really bothered by it and still think it’s a product of the band’s creative evolution, not just Jeff’s.
 

Also, if I had to guess, I’d say Wilco’s next album will be much more experimental and less “songs.” Jeff even talked in a recent interview about them having started making a very different “art pop” record during the pandemic. 
 

I just bridle at the despair I hear about Jeff’s solo albums and Wilco sounding like a leader/backing band, because I think it’s selling their collective process short. I guess I love the subtleties of the last three records more than some, even if they are somewhat less deconstructed versions of Jeff’s songwriting.

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I was listening to shuffle yesterday and Mystery Binds came on.  That was quite enjoyable.  I stand by my overall critique, but I suspect if the album had been sequenced differently, and maybe was a few songs shorter, it would have been more likely to click with me.  Still could click at some point if I play around with the song order.  I've never done that with any album, but this one starts out so weak (I feel that "I Am My Mother" is an exceptionally dull album opener, for example) that it might be necessary.

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48 minutes ago, jff said:

I was listening to shuffle yesterday and Mystery Binds came on.  That was quite enjoyable.  I stand by my overall critique, but I suspect if the album had been sequenced differently, and maybe was a few songs shorter, it would have been more likely to click with me.  Still could click at some point if I play around with the song order.  I've never done that with any album, but this one starts out so weak (I feel that "I Am My Mother" is an exceptionally dull album opener, for example) that it might be necessary.

 

Yeah, fair enough. I personally love both the simple folk song structures immaculately executed by the sextet as well as the more instrumentally expressive, less vocal/lyric-centered stuff. Darkness is Cheap, like Mystery Binds, is another one where the melody played by guitar/french horn/piano, rather than the melody that's sung, takes center stage.

 

And I was thinking about your critique vis a vis a song like Many Worlds. Like, to me, Many Worlds takes a very similar, trademark Wilco, approach as another classic song: At Least That's What You Said. It starts with a soft ballad, then lets the instrumental jam that follows more fully express the true emotions of the song. Now, they do feel quite different, because Jeff and his band are in a very different place mentally/emotionally these days. But I would argue we both love the same thing about Wilco in those two songs, if that makes sense.

 

I hope I don't seem too argumentative. It's just that I also hope other Wilco fans hear some of the things I love in this album. I'm still in a state of ecstasy about it.

 

 

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11 hours ago, 5hake1t0ff said:


I think those are some good observations, but I also think they only describe about half the album. The guitar playing by all the guys has become more rhythm and textures in the last two to three albums than riff and solo-heavy, for sure. I’m not really bothered by it and still think it’s a product of the band’s creative evolution, not just Jeff’s.
 

Also, if I had to guess, I’d say Wilco’s next album will be much more experimental and less “songs.” Jeff even talked in a recent interview about them having started making a very different “art pop” record during the pandemic. 
 

I just bridle at the despair I hear about Jeff’s solo albums and Wilco sounding like a leader/backing band, because I think it’s selling their collective process short. I guess I love the subtleties of the last three records more than some, even if they are somewhat less deconstructed versions of Jeff’s songwriting.

I agree the collective process is still there, and the collaboration makes this significantly different than a Jeff Tweedy solo album, even with the more subtle approach. I like both straightforward and deconstructed Jeff Tweedy songs — the straightforward ones are beautiful. I just feel like we've been getting a lot less of the deconstructed ones now, and those are the bold and adventurous sonic statements and deviations that would balance the ledger a little.

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*And by deconstructed I don't just mean "noise" or "weird." I mean a song where a more complex or dynamic arrangement, where Jeff's acoustic strumming doesn't take up quite as much room. I like the bulk of Cruel Country, but I understand the "same-y" complaint from some people, because most of these songs don't sound vastly advanced from Jeff sitting on the couch with his acoustic, except there is some beautiful but soft ambient accompaniment.

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27 minutes ago, 5hake1t0ff said:

 

Yeah, fair enough. I personally love both the simple folk song structures immaculately executed by the sextet as well as the more instrumentally expressive, less vocal/lyric-centered stuff. Darkness is Cheap, like Mystery Binds, is another one where the melody played by guitar/french horn/piano, rather than the melody that's sung, takes center stage.

 

And I was thinking about your critique vis a vis a song like Many Worlds. Like, to me, Many Worlds takes a very similar, trademark Wilco, approach as another classic song: At Least That's What You Said. It starts with a soft ballad, then lets the instrumental jam that follows more fully express the true emotions of the song. Now, they do feel quite different, because Jeff and his band are in a very different place mentally/emotionally these days. But I would argue we both love the same thing about Wilco in those two songs, if that makes sense.

 

I hope I don't seem too argumentative. It's just that I also hope other Wilco fans hear some of the things I love in this album. I'm still in a state of ecstasy about it.

 

 

None of what you've said comes across as argumentative.  I like reading opinions that differ from mine.  If my posts are coming across as negative, or like I'm trying to persuade others not to like the album, that's not my intent at all. 

 

I guess I'm really just thinking aloud, trying to take the album apart in ways that will either lead me to enjoying it more, or will help me understand why it hasn't connected with me.  Maybe for me, a better approach to this record is taking it one song at a time rather than as a compete album.  That worked for Mystery Binds, and I will make time today to dig into Many Worlds.     

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Really not doing much for me, it is more an ordeal to get through it right now. there's a good EP in there I think. Took me about a year to like Exile on Main street though. Try and find your electric guitar, Jeff!

 

 

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What's so maddening to me is that there are a few songs I can't get enough of like "Falling Apart (Right Now)" and "A Lifetime to Find" (the songs that actually sound like country songs). But then there's the litany of slow, sad, and rather boring songs that remind me of Ode to Joy and some of the music I like less on the solo albums (although I much prefer Jeff's solo albums to anything released by Wilco since The Whole Love). Definitely not what I was in the mood for as we enter what will hopefully be the tail-end of the pandemic. As I suspected I mistakenly got my hopes up based on the first single and the description of the album as a "country" album. It's probably still my favorite Wilco album since The Whole Love, and the songs sound better live. Still I'll probably never get my hopes up for another Being There again because it's not going to happen. 

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5 hours ago, Boss_Tweedy said:

What's so maddening to me is that there are a few songs I can't get enough of like "Falling Apart (Right Now)" and "A Lifetime to Find" (the songs that actually sound like country songs). But then there's the litany of slow, sad, and rather boring songs that remind me of Ode to Joy and some of the music I like less on the solo albums (although I much prefer Jeff's solo albums to anything released by Wilco since The Whole Love). Definitely not what I was in the mood for as we enter what will hopefully be the tail-end of the pandemic. As I suspected I mistakenly got my hopes up based on the first single and the description of the album as a "country" album. It's probably still my favorite Wilco album since The Whole Love, and the songs sound better live. Still I'll probably never get my hopes up for another Being There again because it's not going to happen. 

Just curious, given your style preferences and expectations, why you rank the new one ahead of Star Wars in the post-Whole Love era. That one certainly has more energy and spunk.

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11 hours ago, DiamondClaw said:

Just curious, given your style preferences and expectations, why you rank the new one ahead of Star Wars in the post-Whole Love era. That one certainly has more energy and spunk.

 

I don't know how to best describe it, but none of the songs from that album registered with me. In fact I just had to search for the album to see some of the song names to remind me what was on the album. It's not a terrible album - they don't make those. It's just totally forgettable to me. 

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It's pretty wild how different Wilco's last 4 albums are. Alt-rock. Folk-rock. Experimental. Country. If you don't like the current Wilco record, all you have to do is wait for the next one.

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There is something about Wilco albums which mean they get better with time, unlike many artists for which the music wears off. I have struggled a bit with the decline in Wilco's music in recent years, despite the gems within. This one sort of reverses the trend which is unusual (same with the new Calexico album) and had it been a single album it would have been right up there (assuming they chose the same tracks as me). That said, I get an albums worth of songs I like which is rare these days (plus some I can ignore).

 

Best since the Whole Love for me.

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As a follow up to my earlier post in which I pledged to dig into Many Worlds... now that I've done that, my thought are somewhat mixed.   The Somewhere Over the Rainbow musical quote near the beginning (at :22) is distracting to me and sets me up to not like this song.  Then there's a vocal harmony straight out of latter era Neil Young and Crazy Horse (at 2:43) that works well and I can't help but like.

 

I don't really like the lyrics.  There's an on-the-nose earnestness in a lot of Tweedy's lyrics over the last two albums that I don't care for very much, particularly when partnered with such a serious sounding, contemplative backing track as on this song.  It's weird that in the wake of writing a book almost entirely about lyric writing, Tweedy is turning in some, imo, quite terrible, middle school poetry class lyrics.  That is baffling to me.  Is he playing a trick?

 

I do enjoy the coda.  I had seen people making a Dire Straits comparison, and I can hear that here.  I think the band were more likely actually going for a Richard Thompson slow burn, clean guitar outro jam, as that is a hallmark of Richard Thompson's career, and Wilco/Tweedy have a tight connection to him on multiple levels.  I hear some very specific Thompson-isms in the guitar playing, particularly in the string bending. (see edit)  Since I time stamped some other things in the track, I'll go back and do that for one or two examples of this.  (EDIT:  See 4:22, 5:03, 6:45...I think it's Pat playing here as you can hear Nels doing easily identifiable Nels-type stuff on the other guitar.  It's not bends as I previously stated, but what's called "double stops," where you play two notes at once.  Very reminiscent of Thompson's playing to the point of almost being a direct quote.)  (There are strong similarities between Knopfler and Thompson's guitar playing and guitar sound, so it's not wrong to draw a comparison to Dire Straits, but I still think Thompson is where they were coming from on this coda.)

 

So I give Many Worlds a mixed review.  I like the overall arrangement of song - - > lengthy instrumental coda, and I'm sure this one goes down really well live.

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Yeah, my impressions of Many Worlds are similar.

 

To be clear, my comment about it being analogous to ALTWYS is because I think the instrumental coda comprises the full expression of the lyric "I know I'm not the only one ...Alive/looking at the sky..." And I agree totally with the comparisons and observations you made about the instrumental coda's type of sound.

 

The first part of the song is without question my least favorite bit of songwriting on the album. It's just shy of unlistenable for me. I like the slightly static-y production of the piano. Otherwise, ick. So in terms of the first parts, both from a songwriting and lyrical perspective, ALTWYS >>> MW.

 

There's a whole lot of lyricism on CC that I love, but not this one. And while there's a few moments of the the on-the-nose-earnestness on CC - that's been true since SBS - I don't feel like it's a trend at all. In fact, I find several songs here and on OTJ quite cryptic and poetic.

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1 hour ago, 5hake1t0ff said:

 

 

There's a whole lot of lyricism on CC that I love, but not this one. And while there's a few moments of the the on-the-nose-earnestness on CC - that's been true since SBS - I don't feel like it's a trend at all. In fact, I find several songs here and on OTJ quite cryptic and poetic.

 

That's true.  There are earnest and not earnest lyrics on all the albums.  Somehow I'm picking up on it more with Ode/Cruel than on previous records.  It could be that the earnestness of late is more in vein of the "I'm sad because everything in this country/world is irreparably fucked up and rapidly getting worse."  I suppose I just don't want to be reminded of that when I listen to music.   

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26 minutes ago, jff said:

 

That's true.  There are earnest and not earnest lyrics on all the albums.  Somehow I'm picking up on it more with Ode/Cruel than on previous records.  It could be that the earnestness of late is more in vein of the "I'm sad because everything in this country/world is irreparably fucked up and rapidly getting worse."  I suppose I just don't want to be reminded of that when I listen to music.   


this is true to how I feel a lot of the time too, but I think the overall point of the album is akin to a relationship with a difficult parent. It forces the choice: you can either have a relationship with the thing/person you love or not. You can’t change where you’re from, and you can’t change anyone but yourself. I think the album is saying we think we want to stay in this relationship with our country because we love it, while also knowing we may never change it to our liking.

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49 minutes ago, 5hake1t0ff said:


this is true to how I feel a lot of the time too, but I think the overall point of the album is akin to a relationship with a difficult parent. It forces the choice: you can either have a relationship with the thing/person you love or not. You can’t change where you’re from, and you can’t change anyone but yourself. I think the album is saying we think we want to stay in this relationship with our country because we love it, while also knowing we may never change it to our liking.

 

All good points. Those themes are well worth examining in an artistic context, but perhaps they hit too close to home to be enjoyable. 

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https://aquariumdrunkard.com/2022/06/16/jeff-tweedy-on-wilcos-cruel-country/?fbclid=IwAR359bhUOpvv5EhfTWFQR0oJMIaorzKkJElWTTVoXCWb_OqLoiOmdIoub5Y

 

I read this article yesterday, and it gave me an angle on the record I hadn't considered.  I don't know exactly when the CC songs were recorded or written, but we know the band was preparing for the YHF shows shortly before the CC album release.  They've had YHF on their plate for a long time.  So in the context of everything that goes into putting the YHF shows together, I can see how the band feels Cruel Country is a departure or is something new.  It IS a departure from how YHF was created and performed.  And the process of recording it as a live group is a departure from how Ode and Schmilco, according to my understanding, were recorded. Still, after many listens, it doesn't feel like anything new to me, or like a step forward in any way. 

 

I hope Tweedy is right and the next one really is going to blow minds.  That's what they used to do. It's what hooked me a long time ago and kept me on the line all this time. It's why they're one of a very small number of older bands whose new records I still look forward to. I think it's fair to still want my mind blown from their records, and it's not wrong to be disappointed when it isn't.  

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