Chicago-based alternative indie rock band Wilco have just released Schmilco, the follow up to 2015’s Star Wars. Known for perfectly blending sounds of electric grunge-y sounding rock, as well as soft acoustics of alternative country, Wilco has coined their coffee shop rock sound over the span of their 22-year career.
The cover art is the first thing that always grabs my attention in an album, and I am a fan of Schmilco’s, which shows a comic-like depiction of a daughter using her father to plug in a turntable. After ogling at the art, I finally got around to listening, here are my thoughts track by track.
“Normal American Kids” – The album opens with a solo performance by lead singer/guitarist Jeff Tweedy. Dominated by a soft acoustic riff and lyrics about being an outsider, “Normal American Kids” sounds like something that you would hear around the campfire from your musically-talented uncle on a family camping trip. We hate the normal American kids too, Jeff Tweedy.
“If I Ever Was A Child” – It is on the second song of the album where the drums finally kick in. I am personally intrigued by the bass riff on this song (which sounds like it is being played on a string bass). The warm-sounding, acoustic country side of Wilco has been brought out in full force on this album so far; I get a very “family camping trip” vibe. “If I Ever Was a Child” makes me think of taking off your shoes and kicking back by the fire in a log cabin on a cold winter’s night, with good friends and good conversation.
“Cry All Day” – The instrumental aspect of this song continues to build from the beginning; the guitars, drums, and bass seem to get louder and louder yet initiate feelings of peace rather than hype or aggression.
“Common Sense” – Clearly the most musically complicated song on the album so far, Common Sense has a mesmerizing drum and lead guitar pattern, harmonized by bass which makes things on the album become slightly more hectic in the most beautiful sounding way. The vibe of the song is very similar to the end of “I Am the Walrus” by the Beatles, and is definitely an interesting listen.
“Nope” – Here comes the rock. The drums are pounding, the bass is rumbling, and my foot is definitely tapping on the floor. This is the first time we really hear an electric guitar take the forefront of the instruments, breaking the soft acoustic vibe we have gotten up until this point.
“Someone To Lose” – Keeping the classic Wilco warm soft alternative rock sound alive, “Someone to Lose” is one of my favorite songs on the album so far. This song makes me think of sitting on the beach, relaxing and laughing with all my friends with my feet in the water. Lead Singer/Guitarist Jeff Tweedy exclaims in the lyrics of the song’s chorus that he wishes I find someone to lose someday, a good luck charm for the listener.
“Happiness” – Don’t let this name fool you, this song has a very sad and beautiful feel to it. With lyrics with subject matters of loss, confusion, and uncertainty, “Happiness” is definitely the song to cry to on this album.
“Quarters” – My first impression of “Quarters” was that it sounds like classic, Sigh No More-era Mumford & Sons folk rock. The song eventually fades into a trance-like acoustic wonderland. What started off as melancholy has now transformed to happiness. This song is the musical equivalent to being in a dark tunnel and then seeing the light start to form at the end.
“Locator” – This is my favorite song on the album. Defined by various percussive instruments and a bass-heavy guitar riff, this is a type of sound that the Radiohead fan inside of me cannot get enough of. Seriously, if you are into Radiohead before and including In Rainbows, this is the song for you.
“Shrug and Destroy” – Another classic-sounding Wilco song, “Shrug and Destroy” has whispery vocals, acoustic guitar, and just a hint of percussion. This song gives me the feeling of flying over a vast mountain range, and it is very peaceful.
“We Aren’t the World (Safety Girl)” – With lyrics of love and inspiration, “We Aren’t the World” definitely continues the soft, laid-back feel of the album. This is one of the first times in the album where Jeff Tweedy is explicitly seeming happy in his singing and choice of lyrics. This isn’t necessarily a claim that the rest of the album is particularly sad, it is just that happiness stands out in this track.
“Just Say Goodbye” – The album’s last song is a beautiful conclusion to Schmilco. Bass and drums dominate the instrumental, while Jeff Tweedy softly sings about a love he may have lost. This is one of those songs that confuses the listener, as the lyrics are those of lost love but the melodies give off a calming sensation of happiness.
Overall, Schmilco is a very “warm and fuzzy” feeling album; something to listen to after you throw on your fuzziest wool socks, pour your best cup of tea, and sit in your comfiest available form of seating by the window. For me, I anticipate me getting more into this album as winter approaches, it has a very wintery sound in my opinion. For now, fall is here, and the soft acoustic melodies of Schmilco will still be fitting while watching the leaves change and fall.