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The Whole Love

By Evan Barber |

Last year the innovative and critically acclaimed American rock group Wilco released its eighth studio album, “The Whole Love.”  They played quite a few festivals early this year, but have since taken a two-month break. Fayetteville will host the band’s first show for this leg of the tour at the Arkansas Music Pavilion today, May 10.
“We like touring this part of the country,” says Pat Sansone, who plays guitar, keyboard and a whole host of other instruments for the band. “I’m from Mississippi, so the South always feels like home to me.”
From the beginning through 2004, Wilco’s lineup remained unsteady. Musicians joined and left after almost every release following the 1995 debut “A.M.”, with the band’s only constants being Jeff Tweedy on lead vocals and guitar, and John Stirratt on bass. But in 2004, when they teamed up with Pat Sansone and avant-garde guitarist Nels Cline, as well as drummer Glenn Kotche and keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen, the band’s roster was finally solidified. Together, this lineup released “Sky Blue Sky” in 2007, Grammy-nominated “Wilco (the Album)” in 2009 and then 2011’s “The Whole Love.”
“For “The Whole Love” there was more of a conscious effort to get back into using the studio,” Sansone said. “Not to use a cliché, but we moved back toward really using the studio as an instrument, as they say. We decided not to worry about the stage, and to just focus on making an interesting sounding record, using all the colors and instruments and toys we had at our disposal.”
It’s on the album’s opener “Art of Almost” that this studio-playing is most noticeable; the epic seven-minute lush-but-crunchy bass ride features gorgeous string movements, digitally affected drum samples, sewer pipe synth sounds and a furious storm of guitar shredding. To date, it’s some of the strongest and most potent sensory indulgence the band has offered up.
And it’s appropriate that this album bears such a uniquely strong mark of the studio for the band; “The Whole Love” is the first album to be released on Wilco’s own record label, dBpm Records.
“I think because of the way music is consumed now, these days there’s just less and less of a need for a record company,” Sansone commented. “It’s gotten to the point where it makes more sense for us to handle those things ourselves. And that’s one of the reasons why I might say “The Whole Love” has been my favorite Wilco album to record; I got very involved in the production and the mixing of this record, and that was really enjoyable for me to do. It was great to get to use that part of my interests and skill sets for the band.”
Sansone also wrote some of the string arrangements for the album, including for the lonely midnight desert ballad “Black Moon.”  Slow-moving and pensive, the strings vibrate and hover in the air as Tweedy sings, “And I’m waiting for you, waiting forever / Are you awake now, too?”
“I think everybody in the band feels like they were given more free rein to do what they want to do,” Tweedy was quoted as saying.  “I feel really good about the way the songs have all come together, and the lyrics especially.  I don’t feel like I’m repeating myself, which is the best I think you can hope for after writing, I don’t know, a couple thousand songs.”
Rolling Stone ranks “The Whole Love” as the eighth best album of 2011, remarking that Wilco is “pretty much the only band from the Nineties this side of Radiohead who keeps experimenting and growing its audience at the same time.” And in fact, because of the band’s genre-spanning musical catalogue and consistent critical acclaim, very many listeners have called the band “the American Radiohead.”
“There are worse things we could be called,” laughed Sansone. “I think that nickname started popping up around when Wilco released “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” in 2001. Radiohead had just released “Kid A,” and there was probably a feeling that there were these two bands that, around the same time, put out records that were kind of left turns from the records they had made before. I don’t agree with it completely, but it’s understandable.”
Whether you think the nickname is fitting or not, there’s no denying that, like Radiohead, Wilco has redefined their sound quite a few times. With each record, the band’s sonic palette continues to grow and evolve.
“And we’re still really enjoying playing the new material, and still kind of discovering it for ourselves. So I would expect a healthy dose of our new album at the concert.”

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