I got my teeth cleaned today. I don’t know what it is, but I get kind of tense while the dentist is scraping away at the plaque. To help with the tension, I brought my headphones today, telling the dentist that I didn’t mean to be rude but that the music would keep me calm. (Plus, it would drown out the sound of Lite FM radio drilling down tunes by Air Supply).
I dialed up Wilco’s The Whole Love, the album that got lots of attention in the year-end lists for 2011. I have been enthralled by Wilco’s continuing work at breaking boundaries. While the album contains snippets and remnants of the Uncle Tupelo, AltCountry roots, Wilco draws in so much soul sway into their rock ‘n’ roll.
So the scraping of my teeth began, and I pressed start on The Whole Love. The album opens with a mashup of electronic noise, giving way to the sprawling “Art of Almost.” It jams and rolls, enveloping me in another world through the warmth, depth of the headphone sound. I came close to tapping my foot too much in the dentist chair as “I Might” marches along with a hint of Motown or the blues in the wings.
I became a little too aware of how force the dentist was using when things grew quiet for the dream-like “Sunloathe.” The song meanders for quite a while, and if I could have reached the forward button, I would’ve jumped to the twang fuzz of “Dawned on Me.”
Fortunately, my day at the dentist soon drew to a close, but listening to part of The Whole Love put me in the mood to finish the record. The sound of “Black Moon” recalls the slowcore, AltCountry of Damien Jurado, bringing to mind driving around the edges of a small town in the dark plains of Nebraska. “Born Alone” catches my attention with its rootsy, Tom Petty-meets-Neil-Young, psychedelic vamping charm. I’m not sure the lyrics come to a coherent meaning, drawing more of a picture than anything, but the first line makes my ears perk up: “I have heard the wall and worry of the gospel.” I’m not sure how the Gospel is a wall or a worry, but I’d love to explore that feeling with Jeff Tweedy.
The twang, slow horse ride returns for the beautiful landscape of “Open Mind.” “Capitol City” works in a vaudevillian softshoe. The Who rear their influence for the opening riffs of “Standing O,” while the driving stanzas and chorus owe much to the Kinks—or at least Kinks-influenced bands of recent years, such as AutoVaughn, the Blue Van, or the 22-20s. The title track is a soft swagger, a Beatlesque walk through the park, buoyed by “The Whole Love.”
Then there’s the 12 minute “One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend),” a gorgeous ballad story of sorts, broken up by this picked line that draws out joy in the middle of heartbreak and sorrow. Apparently inspired by a conversation with Smiley’s boyfriend about religion and an overbearing father, I would again invite conversation with Tweedy to see if there’s common ground to be found between his view of religion and mine. Could it be that the “wall and worry of the gospel” could find hope and salvation in knowing more of the true Christ? I await an invitation for that conversation.
Meanwhile, my teeth checked out. No cavities. And my mind was filled with the sounds of soul-searching, soulful, AltCountry, rather than just hearing that scraping.