Wilco – Cousin
Disclaimer – I’ve never clicked with Wilco. I should – I’m right in their demo: an early 90s college kid whose young adult musical tastes revolved around the nascent alt-country scene. But, in the post-Uncle Tupelo scorched earth, my tastes swung more toward Son Volt, especially as Jay Farrar’s band largely held onto their twang while Jeff Tweedy’s outfit branched out and experimented, culminating in their revered 2002 release Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. But I did find myself favoring some Tweedy projects, including his solo work and Wilco’s more Americana-flavored Cruel Country last year. So when their latest album, Cousin, was announced, I decided to dive in, listening to older albums and playlists and watching (finally) their YHF-documenting film I Am Trying to Break Your Heart. So, was a new Wilco fan born? Not exactly, but a greater understanding and appreciation has been gained.
Over the past two decades, Wilco has been a pretty insular organization, working out of their Chicago studio, The Loft, and keeping their producing in-house. For the first time since YHF, though, Tweedy and Co. decided to work with an outside producer, Welsh artist Cate Le Bon, and the result is a sharp sonic turn from Cruel Country. Fuzz, sound effects and programming introduce the record’s lead track, “Infinite Surprise,” before Tweedy’s guitar chimes in. Later, the singer, amid a squall of guitars and horn-like synths, plaintively announces his fatalistic reality – “It’s good to be alive/It’s good to know we die.” Tweedy extends that bone weary acceptance of mortality to, well, all of us on the piano-driven “Ten Dead,” as he wakes up to an all-too-frequent news report – “Turn on the radio/This is what they said…No more than ten dead.”
“Levee” carries a little bit of that old-school Wilco jangle as Tweedy wrestles with both depression and its cure – “I love to take my meds/Like my doctor said/But I worry/If I shouldn’t instead.” As in “Ten Dead,” the reality of becoming desensitized seems to concern Tweedy more than life’s extremes. “A Bowl and a Pudding,” with its opening acoustic tones, begins as the warmest-sounding tune on Cousin, but the song itself is characterized by icy detachment – “Not saying anything/Says a lot/I still see your face/When you look away.”
Tweedy begins to lighten up – a bit – toward the end of Cousin. “Soldier Child” has a pleasant acoustic-and-percussion, Southwestern amble, and a reconciliation brings a tinge of happiness – “So good/To see you/To see you again”- before the past drops its shadow – “I’d almost forgotten/What it’s like/To be this tired.” But the genuinely pleasant, chugging-ahead “Meant to Be” has Tweedy parsing through a lifetime’s worth of mistakes – “A lonely man throws himself on an open flame/Doesn’t that say he should have found another way?” – before the relentlessly forward beat of the track has him realizing he’s OK right where he is – “And I still believe you’re the only one/Our love is meant to be/It is to me.” Seems he’s gained a new level of appreciation, too.
Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: “Evicted” – acoustic with a touch of steel, followed by a layering cascade, it’s the guitar-y-est song on Cousin.
Cousin was produced by Cate Le Bon, engineered and mixed by Tom Schick and mastered by Bob Ludwig. All songs written by Jeff Tweedy. Wilco is Tweedy (vocals, guitar), John Stirratt (bass), Glenn Kotche (drums), Mikael Jorgensen (synthesizers), Nels Cline (guitar) and Patrick Sansone (piani). Additional musicians on the album include Le Bon (bass, piano, synthesizer, backing vocals), Euan Hinshelwood (saxophone) and Spencer Tweedy (percussion, backing vocals).
Go here to purchase Cousin (out now): https://wilcocousin.com/
Check out tour dates here: https://wilcoworld.net/shows/
Enjoy our previous coverage here: REVIEW: Wilco “Cruel Country”