Wilco — Schmilco

2016 was a fun­ny year. One of the year’s biggest sur­pris­es for me was Wilco’s Schmil­co. For me, Wilco was a casu­al­ty of over­ex­po­sure; to be a rel­e­vant music crit­ic in the ’00s meant killing your idols and real­ly try­ing to dis­tance your­self from indie rock to the extent it was possible.

In some ways, the divorce was painful. Wilco were prob­a­bly one of my favorite, if not my absolute favorite band, at the end of the 90s. I fell hard for Being There, loved Sum­mer­teeth, fell hook, line and sinker for Yan­kee Hotel Fox­trot and felt like they’d rein­vent­ed them­selves all over again with A Ghost Is Born.

But then some­thing hap­pened. It was a con­flu­ence of fac­tors, to be sure, but the over­ex­po­sure and the super­se­ri­ous treat­ment the band got — and seemed to embrace — was a bit much. The band I saw rip­ping through a set on the banks of the Coop­er Riv­er was a dis­tant mem­o­ry. More­over, the weird got much weird­er. Wilco’s art rock machis­mo did­n’t fit the mood. I nev­er cot­toned to Sky Blue Sky and tuned out a band I’d seen on every tour between 1999 to 2003.

Albums came and went. I read tweets about Nels Cline’s sub­lime gui­tar, but I was­n’t moved. When I lis­tened to Star Wars I was entranced by “Mag­ne­tized,” but I did­n’t trust my emo­tions. Could it be that Wilco had found their way back, much in the same way one-time tour­mates Son­ic Youth did with Mur­ray Street?

They had, but I could­n’t admit it yet.

It’s a crum­my rock crit­ic thing, but in the inter­im, even as Jeff Tweedy mor­phed into an elder states­man of Great Amer­i­can Song­writ­ers, the all caps idea of Wilco had become some­thing else alto­geth­er. Star Wars felt dif­fer­ent, but with Schmil­co, Wilco were under­dogs all over again, a rock band at once com­plete­ly out of time — did­n’t they get the mes­sage the idiom had passed them by? — and simul­ta­ne­ous­ly right in the pock­et of the Zeit­geist in the most under­stat­ed fash­ion imaginable.

In short, once Wilco were unbur­dened by the chal­lenge of being the coolest rock band on the plan­et, it freed them up to make real­ly fan­tas­tic records that cap­tured the cre­ativ­i­ty and feisti­ness of their ear­ly years. If Schmil­co is Wilco’s Son­ic Nurse, then I can’t wait for their Rather Ripped.


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