“It’s good to be alive. An infinite surprise, an infinite surprise, an infinite surprise…” Jeff Tweedy repeats over and over, as the rock instruments heat up the room, the chords of electric guitars, drums, bass and synths collide, collide , come to life, before finally hearing… the explosion of popcorn kernels! There is no doubt, Wilco is back on the path of experimental rock.
After the double album Cruel Country released last year – and although easily digestible – which directed the group towards this musical genre, we welcome this “back to the future” with happiness for the group from Chicago. With Cousin, Wilco flirts with his Yankees era Hotel Foxtrot (2002), A Ghost Is Born (2004) and Sky Bly Sky (2007) – his three best albums, in our humble opinion. No, it’s not of the same caliber, let’s be frank, but the ten new titles release tunes that fans of this period will recognize. Infinite Surprise, Ten Dead, Levee: the crescendos rise, the distortion is never far away, but remains controlled, restrained. Instruments of all kinds add up… the Wilco formula is in full swing. Big thanks to Jim O’Rourke who came to lend a hand to the guys in the studio – the magnificent The Loft – to complete this new opus.
More linear pieces run through the center of the work (Sunlight Ends, A Bowl and A Pudding, Pittsburgh) and seem, at first listen, simplistic. But it only takes a few listens to appreciate the meticulous assembly and mixing carried out by Tom Schick. No explosions or crescendo here. Bass line, musical egg (yes, yes!), synthesizer, percussion and, above all, the chords of Nels Cline’s 1959 Fender Jazzmaster, in great form, constitute the essentials heard. Only softness and the addition of layers of sound.
Then that Tweedy voice hitting the target. “Not saying anything/Says enough/I know what you’re thinking/When you walk away” is a direct message to the heart for anyone who has experienced recent heartbreak.
Jeff Tweedy is a poet of fallen love, it is known, but here he is also engaged on the political-social path. American politics takes up a lot of space on Cousin. The songwriter speaks frankly about this fissure – this chasm – which separates the reds and the blues in his country (on the title track), about all this hatred observed in the streets (Sunlight Ends), about mass shootings (Ten Dead). No, it’s not a jojo album… But fortunately, the musical conception of this Cousin is salutary and luminous!
The presence of Cate Le Bon in production – a first external contract offered by the group since Yankees Hotel Foxtrot – allows the inclusion of instruments rarely heard in the Wilconian universe: saxophone, Japanese guitars, cinematic drum machine New Wave type. We appreciate this breath of fresh air which updates the offer and prevents the group from offering a simple copy of what it already does well. This adds the word “very” in front of the word “good” to simply define this Cousin.