REVIEW: Wilco: More Like the Moon EP
Wilco: More Like the Moon EP [online release/Nonesuch, 2003]
Three words? Ain't no foxtrot.
Last fall I was excited by the news that Wilco would be releasing a follow-up EP to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, entitled Camera, in February 2003. After delays were announced - and February came and went - I began to fear that this record would never be released. Finally, just before the Apple iTunes Music Store revolutionized digital downloads forever, Wilco announced to surprisingly little fanfare that the delayed EP had been retitled - and would be available for free download from their site. All you needed was the code to be found on any legit purchase of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. At first, I rejoiced at this generous offer - new Wilco! for free! - but after a couple of listens I realized that perhaps Jeff Tweedy & Co. would have felt bad charging people for this ultimately disappointing EP.
After the media storm surrounding Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and the (uneven) documentary about the making of the record, how could anyone not approach this release with expectations, well, over the moon? It would be interesting to see how Wilco would soldier on without guitarist Jay Bennett, who despite being tossed from the band, did write a large portion of the YHF material. Comprised of two outtakes from the YHF sessions and four new songs, I certainly hope More Than the Moon is a means for Wilco to clear out the cupboards - and not a sign of the future they're headed into.
The EP starts with a godawful "rock" version of the otherwise stellar YHF song "Kamera." Retitled, "Camera" this version thunders with a straight and very predictable 4/4 beat, distorted bass carrying the song. Gone is the any of the sense of fragility that the original version brought with it. Next is "Handshake Drugs," an easily enjoyable little number that starts of promisingly but really doesn't go anywhere. You'll find yourself humming the chorus "The taxicab just driving me around/To the handshake drugs I bought downtown" and not really remembering anything else. The second guitar under Tweedy's strummed acoustic noodles its way around the verses as if it couldn't figure out anything better to do. It feels lazy and passed off. "Woodgrain," on the other hand, is fantastic - with the weirdest chord choices I've ever heard. Sounding almost (but not quite) out of tune, it pulls you in; Tweedy's voice hovers delicately above the melody with noises scraping at the edges of your ears. This is easily album-worthy, but goddamn it, it ends before fully realizing its potential. "A Magazine Called Sunset" starts off brilliantly with a cheesy chi-chi sample that switches abruptly into a truly moving synthesizer section. Before long, however, the song settles into a plain-and-bouncy pop progression, Tweedy endlessly repeating the lyrics "magazine and tape machine oh yeah." Again, another song that had the band spent a few more hours on it, would have been something special.
The EP closes with the forgettable "Bob Dylan's 49th Beard," and "More Like The Moon" which, despite some catchy organ hooks and Spanish-inflected guitar, can't seem to move beyond its premise.
I guess you can't really argue with free songs, but after listening to More Like the Moon, one wonders at the sincerity behind the gesture. These songs are hardly even b-side worthy - they feel like the best moments culled from recorded practices. It would be nice to see "Woodgrain" and "A Magazine Called Sunset" more fully realized, and here's hoping that they polish and rerelease them.
Otherwise, More Like The Moon is for the curious only. It's hardly a necessary addition to your Wilco catalogue - and if you're looking for something to hold you over before the next full length (which I pray doesn't sound like this), consider instead picking up Nina Nastasia's new record, coming out later this month.