Having just close the longest gap between studio albums so far without a line-up change, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if Wilco had totally revamped their sound. Star Wars isn’t a gigantic left turn, but the vibe of the album is about as different as you could expect. With a little less polish and a decidedly carefree attitude, it’s a side of Wilco that actually makes for a surprisingly enjoyable experience.
Rather than repeating the alt-country style of Wilco (The Album) or the varied rock of The Whole Love, Star Wars is defined by muddy guitars, mid-tempo drum beats and the occasional wall of sound here and there; a Sonic Youth comparison wouldn’t be out of place. It doesn’t overstay its welcome, either: The album ends right before it begins to feel longwinded.
Pickled Ginger marks the other benefit of Star Wars’ style. The song’s first half features nothing but guitar and familiar hushed vocals, building into a drum beat and additional guitars for its second half while remaining fairly sparse. It plateaus and cuts off right as the rhythm guitar gets into the groove, making for an unexpected and interesting twist. While Pickled Ginger is the most extreme example of minimalism on the album, You Satellite and The Joke Explained in particular also make good use of the style, leaving ample space for additional guitars to join in and fill the song out.
Star Wars is obviously experimental, but not quite to the point of alienation. Elements of their previous genre experiments pop in here and there to make songs feel more familiar, but just enough to complement songs rather than distract from the album’s compelling minimalist style. It would have felt like a bit too much had it gone on any longer, but as it stands, Star Wars is a satisfying return from Wilco.