Wrapping around you with its soft vocals and pulsating drums, Wilco’s 11th studio album, “Ode to Joy,” is perfectly meditative. Released on Oct. 4, 2019, “Ode to Joy” comes at the perfect time, describing fall in a way rarely put to music.
Wilco is at some of its most stripped-down here, with many songs consisting of little more than an acoustic guitar, a soft beat and singer Jeff Tweedy’s quiet, cooing voice. There is tension in the album, but of a much more internal, reserved sort. It’s certainly a far cry from the band’s earlier classics like “War on War” or “Heavy Metal Drummer.”
More than anything, “Ode to Joy” embodies fall. In that vein, “Bright Leaves” serves as the perfect opener. It gives off a feeling of finality and resignation, with lyrics about a once-vibrant relationship being stuck under layers of stagnation. With the repetition of the phrase “You never change,” the song should feel very sad, and yet it is also beautiful. There is softness in the sound that gives a hopeful sense.
It takes a few more tracks for the album to gain its footing. By the time you reach “Everybody Hides,” the most upbeat song on the album, you are really yearning for more. Luckily, this song delivers, decidedly one of the best on the album.
“White Wooden Cross” follows, continuing the shaky contentment that “Everybody Hides” sets. The lyrics detail Tweedy seeing a makeshift grave on the side of the road, which makes him contemplate if his loved one died. This song feels like an autumn drive, with a newfound warmth in the guitar.
You get the sense that the album starts to shift in tone here, almost as if the band has an epiphany as the songs progress. Yes, there may be coldness and insecurity all around, but we can push through this with honest introspection. This shift is fully realized in “Love is Everywhere (Beware),” in which Tweedy describes anxieties of isolation and anger but also declares that love is everywhere.
In that way, “Ode to Joy” makes a statement on contentedness in the face of stress and mortality. It looks at despair right in the face and says “no.” It keeps hope at the worst of times, a fitting message as we march into the season of coldness and decay.
While it takes a few listens to grasp the subtleties of the sounds and lyrics, this is a special album. It feels almost therapeutic, both for the 25-year-old band and the listener. If you like the peacefulness of a day in the woods, the stillness of fall or the quietness that comes with being alone, then you will love “Ode to Joy.”
Rating: 4 out of 5
Thumbnail photo courtesy of @wilco Instagram.
Peter Fenteany is the associate opinion editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.