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Altrok Showcase w/ Sean Carolan

CD of The Week

Week of 10/09/23

    Wilco - Cousin (dBPM)

    Perhaps it is fitting that the opening track (and highlight) of Wilco’s 13th studio album is titled “Infinite Surprise.” Despite the strength of their catalog and their status as perennial live favorites, Jeff Tweedy and co. consistently mix things up and subvert their sound with each release. Last year’s Cruel Country was a double album filled with topical Americana while Cousin is the first Wilco album ever to not give a production credit to either the band or Tweedy (Welsh singer/songwriter Cate Le Bon is the sole producer listed). The result is a record that feels simultaneously mellow and challenging as the band continues to expand their sonic palette to satisfying results.

    Cousin starts strong with perhaps its four best songs. “Infinite Surprise” contains a hypnotic rhythm with waves of distorted guitar from virtuoso Nels Cline appearing periodically to add unease underneath the cosmic nature of the lyrics. “Ten Dead” is a darkly comic gem featuring a narrator who “went back to bed” after hearing on the radio about mass death. Meanwhile, “Levee” resembles a lusher, more mature version of a Being There ballad and “Evicted” is a solid lead single with self-effacing insight and particularly affecting vocals from Tweedy in the bridge. The rest of the record is admirably arty, but the song quality varies even as the soundscapes, such as the ominous guitar/string combo on “A Bowl and a Pudding,” are intriguing. In general, the lyrical themes and melodies are classic Wilco, but the production choices from Le Bon are not, making the album, in some ways, Wilco’s biggest swing since A Ghost is Born.

    Most of Wilco’s albums, especially as of late, have been growers rather than being filled with immediately compelling material. Cousin has the same effect, but that should not be mistaken for a weakness. Instead, it demonstrates the band’s frustration with stasis, and Cousin is a particularly interesting example of Wilco challenging themselves while rewarding their fans.
    Review by Sol

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