Rating: 4.1 out of 5 stars
Recommended If You Like:
King Crimson
Rilo Kiley
Velvet Underground

“A miracle only ever grows wild,” Jeff Tweedy half-mumbles on “Random Name Generator,” one of 11 tracks from Wilco’s new album “Star Wars.” Miracle or no, “Star Wars,” now available on CD after being released as a free download on the band’s website earlier in the summer, is certainly wild, and at times it feels like it’s still growing.
Temporally speaking, the album is assertively concise, with only one song clocking in at more than four minutes long. But the tracks are sprawling in their scope, raucous and speculative at times, soothing and focused at others. With each new listen, the album’s songs as a collective whole push forward from the din some novel twig of sound that briefly captures your attention before being bent and tangled back in with the other bramble and brush that comprise the album’s bird nest of synthesized musical styles.
“Random Name Generator” is one of the album’s most compelling conglomerations. The track’s tight, fuzzy guitar riff and big, swinging drums evoke “Bang a Gong (Get It On)”-era T. Rex, but guitarist Nels Cline’s overdriven runs avoid the stagnation that plague many big glam rock riffs. Instead, Cline guides his strings down variations on the song’s central theme in a manner reminiscent of St. Vincent’s buoyant, looping attack. “Random Name Generator” sounds contained but never subdued, like the child put in the time-out corner who continues to make provoking faces at her brother each time Mom turns her back.
“More…” opens with slack acoustic strumming and Sugar Ray-esque boll weevil guitar fuzz before sliding into lush, “Magical Mystery Tour”-era Beatles harmonies at the chorus. Before it’s all said and done, a frantic dive bomb of a guitar solo rips through the track’s queasy bass line, and the final chorus repetition billows into an impenetrable crescendo of reverb and feedback.
Tweedy delivers the lyrics of “The Joke Explained” in a faux-country slur, like Bob Dylan did on “Nashville Skyline” in 1968, pulling syllables like taffy as he meanders his way through a tangle of fuzz guitar and shuffling drum. The droning, muffled churn of Velvet Underground-informed “You Satellite” devolves into a barrage of ferocious drums and bright guitar chimes as the song approaches its cacophonous close.
“Taste the Ceiling” is a sort of “Peaceful Easy Feeling” for the dream pop set, deftly combining a rollicking rhythm and lilting slide guitar with pangs of discordant guitar and chirping, Buck Rogers synthesizer, and the jagged guitar interjections in “Pickled Ginger” punch through the song’s brooding bass line like frayed transmission signals from the mother ship.
The steady, percussive bass line of “Cold Slope” stalks confidently through the track like some jungle cat plotting its next kill.
The album’s final track is also its most hauntingly beautiful. “Magnetized” is a love song of graceful simplicity. Sustained piano chords gently rumble over the faint ticking of a clock in the song’s opening seconds. “I sleep underneath a picture that I keep of you next to me / I realize we’re magnetized,” Tweedy whispers as the track expands into a sprawling chorale of lush strings, stately piano, ethereal voices and interplanetary sound effects. There’s room enough here for everyone to burrow in and fall head over heels, be it with memory or fantasy, with the newness and adventure of a young crush or the comfort and support of a field-tested lifetime union.

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