The Minus 5 - Down with Wilco
|Welcome to Wilcomania!, your one stop source for all
things Wilco! Wilco is launching out of the gates for 2003 with a multitude
of musical releases-- light snacks to tide over the faithful until the
release of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot 2: Die Foxtrotter! Please select the album
you'd like to hear more about:
For those of you who read The Wire and didn't think YHF was laptoppy enough, press one to hear about Loose Fur!
For the few of you out there who haven't yet fallen for the YHF backlash (a movement, I might add, that is just as hype-derived as the preachy "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot symbolizes EVERYTHING WRONG WITH MUSIC TODAY!" movement), press two to hear about the forthcoming Wilco EP!
And for those of you longing for Tweedy and the boys to return to the good old days of Summerteeth, press three to hear about The Minus 5's Down with Wilco!
Here are some testimonials about The Minus 5's Down with Wilco!
"I saw I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, and that Jay Bennett got a raw deal. After all, he wrote that cute "My Darling", didn't he? Since it doesn't look like they'll be bringing him back anytime soon, thank Jesus they met Scott McCaughey!"
"Experimentalism is fine, but really, everything that could've been done to expand rock music's boundaries was done by Brian Wilson, am I right? Why doesn't Wilco remember that?"
"Well, actually, this album is hardly a Wilco album." [message deleted]
Down with Wilco is the latest release from Scott McCaughey's The Minus 5 project, a revolving-door series of collaborations serving as a vehicle for the former Young Fresh Fellow's pop explorations. For this album, bittersweet Pazz & Jop victors Wilco were called in for a few days of backing band duty, during which they built upon some one-off studio performances of McCaughey's songs.
The result is a watershed of publicity for the generally low-profile McCaughey, and a confirmation that Minus 5 sideman Peter Buck (also featured here, along with The Posies' Ken Stringfellow, Sean O'Hagan of High Llamas, and other indie-cyclopedia entries) no longer has the starpower to draw media attention himself. Down with Wilco even went through its own sort of mini-YHF record company saga, The Minus 5 being drop-kicked by Mickey Mouse himself when Mammoth Records dissolved last year. But it looks like Michael Eisner hasn't been taking calls from Steve Case, as Down with Wilco, rather than being cleverly shifted to another Disney tentacle, is being released on the rather low-budget-sounding Yep Roc Records.
All that is just window dressing, however, as Down with Wilco is harmless sounding enough that even the most militant anti-major activist couldn't come up with a conspiracy theory about artistic suppression. McCaughey has made a career out of crafting slices of pop that are most directly described as "nice"-- material that's hardly groundbreaking or original but that nevertheless appeals to that large sub-section of indie music listeners with a shrine to Pet Sounds in their humidity-controlled record-storage rooms.
As can be expected from an album with Sean O'Hagan in its credits, homages to the big Bea- bands (no, not the Beastie Boys) abound in both melody and orchestration, though the arrangements never reach levels of string-caked Fridmann-phonics. The album's high points are effortlessly catchy and direct pop-rock tunes: Witness the lightly violin and Rhodes-infused ELO-rock of "The Old Plantation", the George Harrison-derived vocals on the melancholy piano epic "Daggers Drawn", or the DJ pop explosion "Retrieval of You". Not every track is a winner, but none will have you reaching for the '>>' button, either.
But wait a second, there was a concept here... oh yeah, Wilco! Wilco! Wilco! It's actually rather curious that Wilco was the band that McCaughey drafted for this batch of songs, as it rarely sounds like Tweedy & Co. playing in the background, and never like the most recent semi-blippy incarnation of the group. Instead, it's mostly a revisitation of the Summerteeth days, all keyboard-heavy and 60s fetishism, except without the uneasy clash between sunny arrangements and Tweedy's burnt-coffee outlook/vocals. Jeffy lends his vocals to a song-and-a-half (a verse of "The Town That Lost Its Groove Supply" and the entirety of "The Family Gardener") but sounds like he's there on a distinctly guest-star basis, sleeping with another man's words.
So Down with Wilco shouldn't be purchased simply on the desire to hear new Wilco material, but would almost certainly appeal to fans of the Summerteeth era, and confirms that the current foursome has a knack for orchestral pop even in the absence of Jay "Dead Weight" Bennett. Oh yeah, and as a Minus 5 album it's up to snuff-- as pleasant and listenable as their previous peak, The Lonesome Death of Buck McCoy. So act now! Act now! Act... ah, forget it.
-Rob Mitchum, February 17th, 2003