An album that wants you to embrace it, despite its cold and monolithic shell
Matty Pywell
11:49 3rd October 2019

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Ode To Joy is the 11th album from ever-present rockers Wilco who have tinkered with country, folk and even the odd turn into pop during a career which has spanned over 14 years. They took 2018 off to focus on their own projects, where helmsman Jeff Tweedy released his own solo album and autobiographical memoir. It’s fair to say that Jeff is one of the busiest creators around.

That creativity has led to a Wilco album that wants you to embrace it, despite its cold and monolithic shell. Authoritarianism shows itself throughout the album from the subtle marching rhythms on ‘Bright Leaves’ to the bolder marching strides on ‘Quiet Amplifier’ that come across as ominous and imperious. These militaristic tones reflecting the modern-day tension felt by much of society as the world slowly seems to become more divided.

Unfortunately, this imperial nature is seemingly too effective at times, with some tracks becoming far too grey to summon much enjoyment, particularly on the first half of Ode To Joy. The acoustic led tracks such as ‘One and a Half Stars’ and ‘Citizens’ suffer the worst from a dull palette of dark greens, browns and petrified grey. Opening track ‘Bright Leaves’ offers some intriguing experiments with creaking distortion and unorthodox melodies but ultimately becomes more laboured over its runtime. 

‘White Wooden Cross’ is the lightbulb moment. Where the instrumentals start to achieve the album’s, much wanted evocative patterns. The overlapping piano and guitar parts becoming gloriously symbiotic. The most haunting tones on Ode To Joy are brought to you by ‘Love Is Everywhere (Beware)’, almost cinematically the swirling tones of ambience evoke the distant sight of descending rain or snowfall graciously floating down to the ground. Tweedy’s lyrics paint a conflicted picture of love, one that suggests that it may almost be a kind of avoidance tactic to deflect away from an ingrained sadness.

Transparency is the theme throughout ‘Hold Me Anyway’, tweedy comparing himself to holograms and plastic bags in the wind. The chorus treads the line between joy and sadness, on one hand Tweedy is enthused by the powerful effect of love that he describes as being “something too big to have a name”, whilst also accepting that love will always end in tragedy due to death. A song that finds beauty but little permanence in the human experience of love.

Ode To Joy is an album that asks for investment for you to be fully divulged, but unfortunately a lot of the instrumentals fatigue quite quickly, only on the second half of this album does it feel like an ode to joy. When it hits its stride, the album is beautiful in an almost malevolent sort of way with some truly beautiful soundscapes. Ode To Joy isn’t Wilco’s worst album but it doesn’t achieve the consistency of records such as Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or Summerteeth.

Ode To Joy is released on 4 October 2019 via dBpm Records.

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