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A crash course on Wilco's surprise new album, 'Star Wars'

Zach Long
Written by
Zach Long

Late yesterday evening, the Internet Gods smiled slyly and bequeathed us with a brand new Wilco record entitled Star Wars. It's the Chicago-based band's ninth studio record and its first release of original material since 2011's The Whole Love. Tonight, the band headlines the first night of Pitchfork Music Festival, so we put together a crash course on the new record so you're not the only person in Union Park without an opinion on Wilco's latest tunes.

Wait, Wilco has a new record?

Yeah! The band pulled a Beyonce (a Drake?) and dropped Star Wars without any warning.

Is it seriously called Star Wars?

Yep, though we're not sure why. Maybe they're angling for a band cameo in Star Wars: Episode 8? Just imagine a Tweedy-fronted cantina band with Nels Cline on guitar...

OK, so how much am I gonna have to spend on it?

That's the best part: It's totally free (for now). You just have to visit the band's website, provide your email address and you'll be sent a download link. Hurry up, though! The free download will only be available for the next 30 days. You can also stream it on YouTube, Spotify, Apple Music or Rdio if that's your preferred music delivery method.

Why is it free?

We'll let Jeff Tweedy field this one: "Well, the biggest reason, and I'm not sure we even need any others, is that it felt like it would be fun. What's more fun than a surprise?" We couldn't agree more.

What if I still enjoy buying physical media? 

You're in luck! The band will release Star Wars on CD on August 21 and vinyl on November 27. You can already pre-order the record via Wilco's online store. If you buy it at a record store, make sure to ask for Wilco's Star Wars or you may walk home with some orchestral music by John Williams.

So, what is the record like?

Well, it's about 34 minutes long and it has a picture of a cat on its cover. The majority of the record sounds like it was recorded live in the studio, with a few tasteful overdubs. It's certainly not a cohesive sonic menagerie on the level of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, but if you dug The Whole Love and Jeff Tweedy's solo record, Sukierae, you'll know what to expect. It has been four years since the last Wilco record—Star Wars comes off as an assemblage of songs culled from various attempts to record a follow-up.

An assemblage of songs, eh? Tell me about 'em.

There are 11 songs on the record, and musically, it's a mixed bag. A noisy introductory track opens the first half of record, which is a more upbeat, rockin' affair, anchored by tracks like "Random Name Generator" and "The Joke Explained" that seem to draw inspiration from bands like Deerhoof and Television. Midway through the album, there's a slowly building track called "You Satellite" that is reminiscent of a U2 song—in a good way. The back half of the album is peppered with tunes that sound like (and might very well be) castoffs from the recent Tweedy solo recordThere's a bit more balladry on this half, including the jangling "Taste the Ceiling" (which features former R.E.M. collaborator Scott McCaughey on piano and mellotron) and the sentimental synths of closing track "Magnetized."

Where does this album rank in the Wilco discography?

What a loaded question! It's still far too early to say—we definitely like it more than Wilco (The Album), but it doesn't quite reach the heights of A Ghost is Born, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or Summerteeth.

Do you think Wilco will play any of the new tracks at Pitchfork tonight?

We can almost guarantee they will. In a discussion that took place at the Museum of Contemporary Art last night, Tweedy said the band plans to debut some of the new songs during its headlining Pitchfork Music Festival set. You better start memorizing all of the lyrics so you can sing along!

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