Thursday, May 13, 2010

Wilco - Summerteeth

Release Date: March 9, 1999

★★★★★ Tracks:

Can't Stand It

A Shot in the Arm

How to Fight Loneliness

Things get a lot more interesting with Summerteeth, as Wilco further expands on their experimentation with traditional country music and pop-rock. They spend more time in the studio here; incorporating intriguing studio techniques and effects, ditching the steel guitar but adding more captivating instrumentation in the process, and further distancing themselves from Americana. It all culminates in to a unique album that sounds like something they've authored themselves, as opposed to a collection of songs mostly mimicking their country-rock heroes.

I imagine Jeff Tweedy is responsible for most, if not all, the lyrics and basic acoustic compositions for Wilco, and he writes some damn good songs. But Jay Bennett, Wilco guitarist and all-around-instrumentalist, is much more involved with the writing and production on Summerteeth. And while he appeared to be a difficult individual to work with (based off of the interesting documentary I am Trying to Break Your Heart), it's Bennett's ear for tweaks to the band's arrangements and compositions, and his increasing confidence in studio production and manipulation that really catapult Wilco from imitators to innovators.

I think one of the best examples of Wilco's growth is the catchy bright piano driven track, "A Shot in the Arm." Synthesizers, frequency shifts, buzzing "wah" effects and flanger guitars are always present, and only increase in multitude and volume as the song progresses, while strings and the occasional orchestral bass drum add subtle touches to the composition. The effect is a song sounding very progressive, but still having all the driving forces of a radio-friendly pop tune.

(Note: the live version doesn't include all the bells and whistles that the album song features. But the energy from the performance here makes it the best clip available. For the studio version, click here.)

Other great tracks like "Can't Stand It," "How to Fight Loneliness," and "Nothing'severgonnastandinmyway (again)" really exemplify Summerteeth's strengths: great folksy pop-songs which include unique arrangements and experimental studio techniques. At 52:50 and 17 tracks the album runs a bit too long for my tastes, and there are a few songs I find to be filler, like "Candy Floss" and "ELT," but Summerteeth is a massive upgrade over Being There, and a record I'm very happy to have stumbled upon.

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