14 May 2007

Wilco: Sky Blue Sky, Pitchfork, Stylus, & PopMatters

[Dude looks like a lady: Aerosmith and Robin Williams were the original sellouts.]

We can't believe the new Wilco album must be coming out tomorrow. Is that right? We've been listening to it for a while now (mad props to Oink!) and we think it's O.K. What's wrong with it? It's pleasant. The sun is sunny right now! What's wrong with pleasant? We were driving around with our girlfriend yesterday, after picking her up from the bookstore. In the store, we saw a book about Merzbau, the Kurt Schwitters' exhibition. Well. Naturally we put on in the car Merzbow. It was unpleasant: ahhh, but that's the point, you say. Well, we agree; but sometimes we just want music to sound nice.

Pitchfork loves Merzbow. (Well, they don't exactly, but all Merzbow albums are rated higher than this new Wilco album.) And they hate the new MOR Wilco. Is new Wilco MOR? Who cares. Giving the album less than five-and-a-half on the Pfork scale, they say

An album of unapologetic straightforwardness, Sky Blue Sky nakedly exposes the dad-rock gene Wilco has always carried but courageously attempted to disguise. Never has the band sounded more passive, from the direct and domestic nature of Tweedy's lyrics, to the soft-rock-plus-solos format (already hinted at on Ghost's "At Least That's What You Said" and "Hell Is Chrome") that most of its songs adhere to.

We really like the first two songs there on A Ghost Is Born. WTF? What's wrong with writing straight-ahead rock/pop songs? "Dad-rock" is just another name for "sounds pleasant," and not all music sounds like Merzbow. We're glad that all music doesn't sound like Merzbow. If "Hell is Chrome" is MOR dad-rock, well then goddamnit, we fucking love dad-rock.

PopMatters' review sounds like a direct, considered rebuttal of the 'Fork's review. The little thingy under the byline (or where the byline would be, which must have a technical name, but which technical name eludes me) says, "If you're prone to confusing honest musical maturity with banality, then you'll surely miss out on the treasures of Sky Blue Sky." Which, is exactly what Pitchfork seems to have done (according to PopMatters). PopMatters ultimately gives the album a 9/10. It argues throughout that the tunefulness of the new album conceals a deeper artistic integrity and musical complexity, which sounds like, say, what the Beatles did with their music. Or something. We're only interested in scores, and PopMatters scored the album almost twice as high.

Stylus (we read this trifecta of online music mags, obvs) gives the album a "B-," and compares Wilco's new effort to what the Grateful Dead recorded in the twilight or falling-action phase of their career. I think. The reviewer made some allusion to a place that seems from context to be related to the Dead, and then he mentions them, sure. But I think Mr. Cohen here knows a bit too much about the Dead to trust his taste. We exclude Stylus from our considerations because it's too much of an MOR review. A B-??? WTF. Pick "awesome" or "shitty." Our short attention span can only parse extremes.

Let's turn again to PopMatters. (We're really done with Pfork's divisive qua a fortiori polarizing reviews; nah, just kidding!) At the beginning of the review, the PopM says,

There is already considerable opinion and criticism in print and on the internet regarding Wilco’s sixth studio album. I’m writing this review approximately one month after the band streamed Sky Blue Sky in its entirety via its website (and the subsequent file-sharing leak of massive proportions) and one month before the album’s official release on aluminum poly-whatever.

[The noodles is boiling over, kid. The fix is in!]

This section gave us pause. Three big music online music magazines review the new Wilco album a month before its release--all on the same day?? This sounds like a conspiracy of Oliver Stone-ian proportions. What gives? Did the Big Three get together in a smoky back room somewhere and decide to review simultaneously the new Wilco album, thereby scooping traditional print media, whose natural restrictions already place them at a temporal/scoop disadvantage, which disadvantage only swells when the Allied Powers carve up Berlin a month in advance? We rather see the editors of the three, Stylus, Pitchfork, and PopMatters videoconferencing with their MacBooks, drinking Shasta and smoking parliaments in run-down but expensive apartments in various cities. Well. Really who cares? Much like ESPN pressured John Kruk to pick the Pirates as division champs, which he apparently admitted on radio, we think the three online mags drew straws: short one rips it, middle one stays lukewarm, and long one loves it. Either way, we can't see a better way at least to generate interest in the album than to conspiratorially ally in order to give the new Wilco album an aura of critical ambivalence.

UPDATE: Tiny Mix Tapes sides with PopMatters on the matter. They also reviewed the album today. Weird.