Jesse Jarnow

new wilco tunes

Last night, I downloaded the three newest Wilco tunes: “Just A Kid,” from the SpongeBob Squarepants soundtrack, and “Panthers” and “Kicking Television” from their online EP. I even paid for some of them. I’d used the iTunes store before, but never to purchase new material from a band I really like. There was something really fun about it, and it wasn’t just the guilt-free feeling of buying instead of downloading from a p2p network. There was an aethethic legitmacy to the act. I searched for what I wanted, and got it instantly, by itself, without a whole rash of ugly file names that — even if I could successfully download all of them them — might be mislabeled or corrupted anyway. Yes, yes.

“Panthers” and “Kicking Television” are A ghost is born outtakes. Of the three songs, “Panthers” is the first one that jumped out at me. It’s Wilco in quiet mode, all quiet parts flown around the gravitational center of Glenn Kotche’s metronomic tick. In places, it feels elegantly like Hail to the Thief-era Radiohead, stripped of their electronic bells and whistles. Still, I can see why it was an outtake. The song sorta ambles on in the same groove for a bit too long — like a less funky, less interesting version of “Spiders” — and just generally seems to be missing that extra oomph. “Kicking Television,” on the other hand, is perfectly serviceable Wilco punk, sorta in the vein of “I’m A Wheel” and “The Late Greats.” No use in splitting hairs over it, but those had a place on Ghost, and this didn’t. A nice footnote, and probably a good late-set/early encore number.

I think “Spiders” is going to end up being an important touchstone for Wilco, as they become (it seems) more of a band. If they continue on the sparse course they set with Ghost, the stripped Krautrock grooves of “Spiders” might easily become the template for the way Wilco play together. If “Just A Kid” — the first song recorded by the band’s current touring lineup — is any indication, that just might be the case. The song is driven by an insistent tock, established right away. The band never falls below this starting tempo, but accelerate beyond it with riffs and rhythmic inserts, and then fall back perfectly. They groove effortlessly — like a band that has been playing “Spiders” for 15 minutes on stage every night.

“Just A Kid” is a children’s song for adults in the same way as “In My Room,” though more self-aware of that fact. “I don’t wanna go to bed, there’s so much going on in my head,” Jeff Tweedy sings, in a great power pop evocation of childhood (made all the cuter by the fact that his son sings during the song’s bridge). “Everybody’s gotta do something they don’t wanna do,” runs the chorus — innocent advice for kids, weirdly comforting for adults. Most of all, it sounds like a song on the soundtrack to a children’s movie: big hooks, almost syrupy production, and undeniable bounce. It sounds mainstream (which makes it a more legitimate children’s song; what kid in his right mind would be turned on by “Radio Cure” or “Hell Is Chrome”?)

In short: New Wilco songs. Yay.

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