Ode to Joy is an evolution of Wilco’s last record, 2016’s Schmilco, and frontman Jeff Tweedy’s most recent solo outings, WARM and WARMER. But its scope is much wider, blending the intimacy of those albums with the spontaneity of Star Wars, Wilco’s glam-rock 2015 surprise record.
As with Star Wars and Schmilco, Ode to Joy was produced by Tweedy and longtime engineer/right-hand-man Tom Schick. Tweedy’s muffled acoustic guitars and drummer Glenn Kotche’s drums and percussion dominate the arrangements, augmented by ambient soundscapes and electronic noise which evokes the band’s most celebrated work, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
Longtime fans will detect strains of Wilco’s past ventures — the layered keyboards of Summerteeth (“Bright Leaves”), sparse, hypnotic drum textures of YHF’s “Radio Cure” (“Quiet Amplifier”), and “Sunken Treasure” (from 1996’s Being There)’s chaotic, atonal climax (“We Were Lucky”), but there is an intangible quality which separates Ode to Joy from the ten other records in Wilco’s catalog. In light of Tweedy’s solo work, the album demonstrates how his bandmates (Nels Cline, Glenn Kotche, Pat Sansone, Mikael Jorgensen & John Stirratt) enhance and elevate his songs. And I must add that “Hold Me Anyway” marks possibly the first time I’ve ever heard congas on a Wilco song.
While each song has its own carefully-crafted identity, they share thematic and sonic through-lines, they cohere beautifully. It is immediately apparent that Ode to Joy is Wilco (and Jeff Tweedy’s) most ambitious and fully realized album since A Ghost is Born. Listen to it on headphones.
P.S. they still mix the bass way too low.
Mason Summit is a singer/songwriter from Los Angeles. He studies Popular Music through USC's Thornton School of music. When he's not being a solo performer, he's usually playing with Mason and the Jars or Jaw Talk.