Christmas songs are as big a part of the season as crowded shopping malls and spiked eggnog, but there are only so many times you can hear “Jingle Bells” and “Deck the Halls” without wanting to wretch just a little. Here are some suggestions for compiling a Yuletide playlist that perhaps isn’t quite so musty. Much of the music can be purchased or ordered locally at Guestroom Records, Size Records and the like.
As far as Wilco albums go, 1999’s “Summerteeth” and 2004’s “A Ghost Is
Born,” are two of the band’s most beloved, but rarely by the same fans.
The former, the group’s third full-length, is a joyful romp of Americana
indie rock and pop, bubbling along on a turgid undercurrent of
relational struggle, drug abuse and loneliness.
The latter eschews much of that melody for a grittier rock and prog sound, and a wider thematic range, lyrically. Linking the two is the band’s universally beloved and critically lauded 2002 opus, “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,” but, save for Jeff Tweedy’s most devout, wide-eyed followers, few find themselves with an equal appreciation for both albums.
It seems strange then that they’d synthesize the two with their eighth studio recording, “The Whole Love,” which sounds comprehensive and whole, despite boasting songs that could well belong with either record.
It’s also probably the happiest-sounding disc the band’s ever recorded, which is a sweet relief for Tweedy fans who feared the worst when he went to rehab in 2004 and suffered through his mother’s death, which much of the lyrics on 2007’s “Sky Blue Sky” concerns. Tweedy’s long been capable of singing sweetly (here, on the album’s title track and the sunshiney, “Summerteeth”-esque “Dawned on Me”), but it is remarkable and relieving to hear it for the majority of the record.
Album opener “The Art of Almost” is one of those hypnotic, coda-driving Krautrock songs the act first toyed with on “A Ghost Is Born” — see: “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” and “Bull Black Nova” from “Wilco (The Album)” — and I think it’s the best such song they’ve ever put to track.
John Stirrat — with Tweedy, the lone remaining founding member — holds down a gnarled, thriving low end, while Nels Cline finally hits full stride recording with the rest of the band, now on his third album. Cline also contributes a terrific guitar melody to “Born Alone,” which nicely syncs up with Glenn Kotche’s cymbal-heavy drumbeat for another “Summerteeth” song.
Another standout, “Standing O,” is basically an Elvis Costello track, and just as much fun as anything he ever set a buzzing organ behind. With Tweedy’s always-nuanced vocals, this album’s only going to sound better with additional listens. —Matt Carney