Where to begin: Wilco

Kids these days are all listening to shit. I figure it is because they don’t understand how to approach an established band with a long history and an extensive back catalogue. This is where I come in.

First up, America’s finest band.

Wilco can be divided into three distinct eras: 


Starting with A.M., they were very much still in the hoedown country mode, with an added pop-sensibility. Jeff Tweedy was still finding his feet as a band leader and frontman, and while A.M. featured a number of good songs, it is their most straight-ahead album to date. I would consider it on par with Radiohead’s Pablo Honey in terms of how incongruous it now sounds next to their later work.


Being There showed the beginnings of the band stretching themselves in terms of textures and song styles. While the record still has plenty of songs with traditional structures, they were experimenting with elements of dissonance and songs like “Misunderstood” laid the foundations for what was to come.

As a double-album, Being There is perhaps overlong and in need of an editor, but despite being sprawling and inconsistent, it still rocks pretty hard.


The prescription pill era:

Summerteeth is a perfect convergence of style and sound. Produced to within an inch of its life, the songs gleam, but still feel rough enough around the edges to stay human and affecting.


Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is Wilco’s high water mark. A remarkable album that simultaneously washes over the listener, drifts around your mind, and turns you inside out. It was a singular record that came out of the turmoil within the band and the world around it.


After dismissing Jay Bennet, Wilco produced A Ghost is Born. A fine record, but one that will always exist in the shadow of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. It has a colder, more clinical feel to it, and lacks the ethereal nature of the previous record’s production.


The current era:

The current Wilco line-up has been together for almost a decade now. Something the band hadn’t experienced before, with the line up changing for every album. Sky Blue Sky was their first effort, and while it featured some strong songs, it veered into the jam band territory that Wilco became mired in for the second half of the 00s and early 10s.


Wilco (The Album) is the first forgettable record the band ever produced. “Wilco (The Song)” was the only highlight, if only for the humour of the title and chorus.


The Whole Love was somewhat of a return to form for the band, however the record still lacked the emotional impact that their stand-out albums possessed. The Whole Love’s songs all tend to feel overlong and while there are exceptions, the band’s slide into The Grateful Dead mode seemed almost complete. The songs tend to lack the crackle and spikiness of even the most sedate moments on Summerteeth, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or A Ghost is Born.


Just when all seemed lost, Wilco came roaring back with their freshest, most vibrant sounding record in years. Star Wars’s short run time means there is no time for filler, with every track complementing the next. If it was released at a more impressionable age, I might have considered Star Wars my favourite.



Wilco also recorded two records with Billy Bragg – Mermaid Avenue volumes 1 and 2. These are a mixed bag, with the Wilco tracks being strong and the Billy Bragg ones being, well… Billy Bragg. There is a third volume of Mermaid Avenue, but this relies even more heavily on your like of Billy Bragg.


Apple Music vs Spotify

A little over a week ago I decided to activate my three-month free trial with Apple Music. This was at the expense of my Spotify subscription, which I cancelled for the duration of the trial with a view to leaving permanently if the new service worked out better. My initial impression of Apple Music was one of awe. Awe at the depth of the catalogue, the sound quality, and how easy it was to integrate into my music collection.


I haven’t looked into the technical specs of the sound quality, mainly because I think the numbers don’t matter. It’s my ears that count, not bitrates and whatnot. To me, the sound quality with Apple music is superior. Through the same headphones I used with Spotify, Apple Music’s tracks just sound bigger and more present. Spotify had a tendency to sound a bit tinny and exactly as you’d expect a streaming service to sound. Apple Music has a depth that is almost on par with the music I own and have on my device.spotify

Playlists are Apple’s big selling point, with human curated compilations rather than Spotify’s algorithm calculated suggestions. I have enjoyed the Apple ones and they do tend to be close to what I would generally choose to listen to, but this is also its weakness. They are too good at finding things I would already listen to, while Spotify’s wildly off base algorithm would come up with leftfield things that bore no relation to what I had listened to in the past. That’s not to say that Spotify didn’t present a lot of things that were simply of the same genre or from the same country, but sometimes they would come up with something new and exciting that I would never think to search for. Apple seems to take things I have in my collection and feed me back playlists of their favourite Blur songs, or what they consider to be Wilco’s best, or Radiohead’s “deep cuts” – a term that makes me shudder with embarrassment.

Over the course of the last week, I have discovered that using Apple Music has changed the way I approach my music collection. On my iPhone it requires turning on iCloud Sharing to download playlists and albums for offline listening, but the upshot of this is that everything across the iCloud is then synced to my phone. This is annoying and a flaw. Apple think that they can find everything I have in my collection in the cloud and let me listen to it anywhere, but they don’t have all the records I have. Also, if the naming convention is different to what they have, it won’t work. So I end up with a lot of pale grey songs that I can’t listen to but are bloating my music app. In the end I just turn off the iCloud Sharing and don’t sync to my phone. I am undecided if I will continue with Apple Music as I already find myself missing the set-up I had with Spotify.  The latter made it simpler to see what I had downloaded for offline listening and what i didn’t, ensuring I didn’t waste precious data when I needed to preserve it (usually at the end of the month when my cap was at its limit).

Apple Music has tried to make the subscription music indistinguishable from the purchased music for a seamless experience, and they have succeeded. However, this success has added a layer of confusion that may make me switch back to what I had before. Spotify’s clunky interface and lack of integration are seen as weaknesses, but for me they were important ways to separate the owned from the rented.