After celebrating their beloved fourth album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot by playing the record in full at select shows and announcing a massive box set full of outtakes and rarities, Wilco has returned to announce their twelfth studio album, Cruel Country.
At the start of their career, Wilco were often labeled as "alt-country," a genre that seemed to pop up to describe bands that had a twang, a passion for country music, but were still different enough to be featured in indie scenes and not popular country radio. Country music for an alternative minded crowd, I guess. They haven't really sounded very much like a country band in a long time, but for their upcoming twelfth album, the band has embraced the label and genre. In May, the band will release the double-album aptly titled Cruel Country and the lead single certainly does live up to the statement. The lead single doesn't deal with your typical (or maybe just assumed) subject matter that you'd expect from a country song and Tweedy doesn't have the drawl either, but with it's swinging pace and acoustic shuffle, it's easy to understand the comparisons. Over the years, Wilco has gloriously transitioned from a bonafide Americana rock band to one that takes risks in the studio by amplifying their love of noise and experimentation so in many ways this this can be viewed as a return to their roots. To me, it feels like Wilco easing back into their comfort zone (perhaps because this is the first album the band has recorded together in the same room since 2007!), riding themselves of whatever connotations the idea of "country music" has, and hitting their stride complete with excellent, meandering solos, steady rhythms, and steely guitar slides. According to Tweedy:
There have been elements of Country music in everything we’ve ever done. We’ve never been particularly comfortable with accepting that definition, the idea that I was making country music. But now, having been around the block a few times, we’re finding it exhilarating to free ourselves within the form, and embrace the simple limitation of calling the music we’re making Country.
For those who might not be ready to make the full jump to whatever it means to be called Country, Wilco are still a great alternative.
Cruel Country is out May 27 via dBpm.