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“Schmilco” by Wilco

“Schmilco” by Wilco

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Let’s face it — if you proclaim to anyone to like the band Wilco, you’re automatically deemed a “hipster,” a word all of us in Portland are tired of hearing. The band has come to be synonymous with the romanticized idea of the person who rides around on a fixie, fashions ironic facial hair and wears a knit-sock cap — I just described half of you, didn’t I? But the truth is, the notion that Wilco is just an overrated entry-level hipster band is as inaccurate as it is trite.

Wilco is a Chicago-based alternative rock band that’s been around for the last 22 years, and with a heavy discography of nine studio albums and three collaborations with English singer/songwriter Billy Bragg, the band has been very productive in those two decades.

They released the acclaimed Star Wars back in 2015 and nearly a year later, the band releases something brand new. Schmilco, due out Sept. 9, contrasts Star Wars in content and in form. Where Star Wars was more of a lighthearted album that sounded like the band was having fun playing with each other after its longest break between records and a jarring experiment with instrumental noise, Schmilco is more jaded, despondent, skeptical. It’s more Wilco.

The band has mastered the fine line between melodious and melancholic in its lifespan, blending mostly acoustic guitars with eerily optimistic lyrics. This is definitely carried out on this newest record. The second single and second track on the album, “If I Ever Was a Child” brings back Jeff Tweedy’s trademark “alt-country” sound, with its lo-fi quality and bleakly self-aware lyrics. Tweedy sorely sings, “I never was alone/Long enough to know/ If I ever was a child” over a somber mixture of acoustic and electric guitar that’ll send chills down your spine.

The album is mostly acoustic songs that explore self-identity and seems to be more intentionally placid, relying on calmer instrumentation instead of the tricked-out, Sonic Youth-esque arrangements offered on its predecessor. Like most Wilco songs, the tracks on the album may sound “pretty,” but their melodic qualities contradict the heavy, dark and introspective hole they came from. In the album’s press statement, Tweedy commented: “I think this record is joyously negative … I just had a lot of fun being sour about the things that upset me.” That’s a feeling I think every creative person has felt.

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The cover art for Schmilco was created by surrealist Spanish artist Joan Cornellá, who’s known for unsettling, surreal humorous comic strips and artwork. His work has been described as disturbing and a satirical comment on the sinister and bleak side of human nature, which complements the album’s overarching theme and Wilco as a whole. The album epitomizes the realization that life is kinda sad, kinda unsatisfying, but we’re still kinda hopeful.»

– Samantha Lopez