Wilco’s new album, Cousin, captures the essence of navigating the intricacies of human relationships – a journey filled with pain, joy, understanding, and the undeniable truth that we are all, in some way, connected.
Recorded over two years at their studio haven, The Loft, Cousin signals the return of Wilco to their progressive and experimental rock roots after a brief flirtation with country on last year's Cruel Country double album.
Steering the ship as usual is Wilco's driving force and chief songwriter, Jeff Tweedy. Once again, his lyrics take center stage, hitting on themes ranging from the rebellious to the introspective. However, what truly sets Cousin apart is the presence of the enigmatic Welsh singer-songwriter, Cate Le Bon, in the producer's chair. For the first time in over a decade, an outsider actively contributed to a Wilco recording session. Le Bon's unique musical perspective breathed new life into the band's sound, challenging them to venture into uncharted waters. Le Bon's influence permeates the album, manifesting in unexpected ways. Elements like saxophone, cheap Japanese guitars, and a cinematic, New Wave-style drum machine interlace with Wilco's signature sound, propelling the band into the unknown. The result is a body of work that stands as Wilco's most resonant yet, and just more evidence of their commitment to pushing the boundaries of their sound.
The union between Wilco and Le Bon was serendipitous, born at the Solid Sound Festival in 2019. A shared connection sparked an invitation from Tweedy for Le Bon to join the recording of Cousin in 2022 and her presence enabled the band to take risks, preserving their core strengths while at the same time defying their musical norms.
"Cate is very suspicious of sentiment," Tweedy reflects, "but she's not suspicious of human connection." Under Le Bon's guidance, Cousin evolved into a collection of songs that shimmer with an iciness and nocturnal allure previously unexplored by Wilco. Yet, Tweedy's lyrics and voice retain their earnestness, now delivering feelings from a space that mirrors our world and the emotions that inspired the songs. The album's thematic core revolves around human connections – fragile, fleeting, and resonant. On the lead single, "Evicted," a narrator confronts the consequences of his actions in the ways of love, underscored by Marc Bolan-inspired guitars. Tweedy clarifies, "I guess I was trying to write from the point of view of someone struggling to make an argument for themself in the face of overwhelming evidence that they deserve to be locked out of someone's heart."
Cousin encapsulates the paradox of existence, where we find ourselves both within and outside the spectrum of human connection. It's a reflection of hope, expectation, despair, and the complex trappings of life. With the album, Wilco delivers possibly their most emotional record yet, a testament to the profound nature of human connection and our shared existence. In the words of Tweedy himself, "It's this feeling of being in it and out of it at the same time."