Friday, May 11, 2007

Album Review- Sky Blue Sky

Sky Blue Sky

You've probably heard me talk about the power of simplicity a lot. About how refreshing it is to hear something done simple and well. If you think about the timeless songs of our age, most of them are of the simplest nature. "Yesterday" is the most covered song in history without having anything complicated about it. To be certain, simple songs that are effective are no easier to make than songs made complicated just for the sake of complication. But is it necessary to make a big deal out of the simplicity of the music? Normally, no. But when it comes to Wilco, yes.

Wilco are like the heroes of indie rock, which is interesting since their music could never be classified as such. But if you think about it, they've amassed a dedicated fan base and have been largely successful without ever even coming close to "mainstream" success. Unlike certain bands, lets say Radiohead who also have a dedicated fan base but are known by all, Wilco is still relatively unknown to the mainstream audience. This hero status, whose catalyst was the success of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, creates an impeding pressure on the band to do something different with their sound. Push the envelope and raise the bar. Instead of giving in to these demands, Wilco moves forward with one eye towards the past, specifically towards the M.O.R. FM gold of the seventies. Sky Blue Sky effectively shakes off the experimental (a term Tweedy doesn't like) of recent efforts without fully reverting to their (hates this one too) alt-country roots. And guess what, Sky Blue Sky is better than A Ghost Is Born, and more consistent to boot.

Simple may sound harsh to the ears of the musicians that created the music, and it may give you the impression that the music lacks detail—this of course, would be a terrible assumption. Sky Blue Sky is just as richly detailed as any of their other records. It also probably contains some of Tweedy's most direct lyrics to date. The title track is probably the best example of this newfound marriage with its sweet and breezy guitar strums and ghostly slide guitar wrapped in distant reverb. There also seem to be a running theme in the lyrics, a sort of acceptance of the life you have be it good or bad. "Oh I didn't die/I should be satisfied I survived/It's good enough for now" Tweedy sings on "Sky Blue Sky." The album opener "Either Way" is even more supportive of this theme: "Maybe the sun will shine today/The clouds will blow away/Maybe I won't feel so afraid/I will try to understand either way." While it's tempting to make a connection between Tweedy's new lyrical approach and his personal life, I'd rather consider it general advice for a new mode of living.

When talking about this record, it's impossible not too mention the sounds of it. Its warmth and depth may sound wrong to most ears, especially those used to the cold, over compressed sound of records made today. The approach lends itself to the music very well, creating a vinyl friendly environment just as they had intended.

Regardless of the sound of the record, the songs are what count the most. This, I feel, is what makes Sky Blue Sky a great album. "Impossible Germany" is an obvious highlight, easygoing one moment while creating a ruckus of noise the next. It's a great example of the bands excellent chemistry considering the amount of line-up changes they've experienced. When listening to "What Light," I couldn't help but wonder if Tweedy had covered some long lost Bob Dylan song. The opening lines sound like his modus operandi: "If you feel like singing a song, and you want other people to sing along/Just sing what you feel, don't let anyone say it's wrong." Another highlight from the album would be the closer "On and On and On." It's heartbreaking, yet strangely uplifting. It pretty much sums up the idea of life and death in a mere four minutes. It's a beautiful song, and terribly powerful once you fully absorb its message.

Strip away whatever pre-conceived notion you have of Wilco. Forget how they used to sound, are supposed to sound, or how you hoped they would sound. Sky Blue Sky is the sound of a band at their peak, comfortable with the context in which their music exists and content to be who they are….whoever that may be.

Download >>Impossible Germany

Download >>On and On and On

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