Wilco-Schmilco-Artwork

As critically respected as they are chastised for their accidental invention of “dad rock” – which is surely just comfortable-sounding indie rock played by middle aged dudes – Wilco hit a turning point last year.

Initially surprise-released as a free download, 2015’s ‘Star Wars’ is like an unfunny-but-still-endearing dad joke. 33 minutes of cryptic, ragged rock, it remains a fascinating palate-cleanser after four years of inactivity, and its frazzled sound must have satisfied the small subsection of their fan base who wished Wilco would write more songs like ‘I’m A Wheel’.

Named in honour of the late, great Harry Nilsson and with artwork from the fantastic Spanish cartoonist Joan Cornellà, ‘Schmilco’ is as short and sweet as its predecessor – you can fit both on the same CD-R, and still leave room for ‘Spiders (Kidsmoke)’ if you wanted. Recorded in the same sessions as ‘Star Wars’, Schmilco serves as that album’s sombre flipside: whereas Jeff Tweedy and Nels Cline’s guitar skronkery served to emphasise ‘Star Wars”s glammier moments, here the noise is used to punctuate silences and ramp up the paranoia.

The vérité production of ‘Star Wars’ is still here though – you can hear Glenn Kotche drop his sticks before breaking into the galloping ‘Cry All Day’ – and while ‘Schmilco’ may sound sparse, it just shows how vital each song’s component parts are. Yet while every member gets a moment or two to shine, ‘Schmilco’ can occasionally sound more like a Tweedy solo joint, which takes some adjusting to. As the album progresses, though, you realise that each member of this iteration of Wilco, who have now been together for over a decade, are so aware of their strengths that they can comfortably sit a song out every once in a while.

Ten albums into their diverse, storied career, ‘Schmilco’ sees Wilco evolving into a band who don’t sound like they have to prove anything. It seems like, two decades in, they’re knowingly recording the type of instant back catalogue albums that future completists will discover and cherish another twenty years from now. The pressure’s off, and it actually kinda suits them.

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