Cousin Review – A Resolute Exploration of New Soundscapes by Wilco


In their 13th studio outing, Cousin, Wilco has once again demonstrated their unyielding drive to evolve, to venture into less chartered territories of sound. With the new production efforts of Cate Le Bon, the album unfolds with a fresh sonic palette that strays from the rustic charm the band has been known for, yet retains the emotional resonance Wilco fans crave.

The opener Infinite Surprise sets a tone of expectancy, a chugging ambience that gradually melts into a guitar ballad of deep vulnerability, showcasing a willingness to delve into softer, more introspective territories. Each track thereafter is a slow burn, building up to explosive crescendos that are both startling and emotionally rich. The arrangements, though sparse and off-kilter at a glance, are meticulously crafted, unfolding with a deliberate pace that commands attentive listening.

As the album progresses, it’s clear that the collaboration with Cate Le Bon has breathed a new life into Wilco’s sound. The avoidance of live in-studio recording, a suggestion by Le Bon, has resulted in a sound that’s clean, crisp, and intricately layered. Each instrument is given room to breathe, to resonate, contributing to an overall soundscape that’s rich in texture and depth.

The album resonates with a breathy, mid-tempo melody, a departure from the more upbeat tempo of last year’s Cruel Country. It’s a sound more reminiscent of their 2019 release, Ode to Joy, yet with a fresh twist that hints at the band’s continual evolution. This change in tempo, coupled with the clean production, allows for a deeper exploration into emotional and sonic territories that were perhaps overshadowed in previous works.

Lyrically, Cousin is as evocative as ever. The words weave through the melodies, each lyric a brushstroke contributing to a larger auditory picture. The narrative, though not as overt as in previous albums, is subtly woven through each track, inviting listeners to delve deeper, to explore the underlying themes that hint at both personal and universal experiences.

The production choice to record instruments individually, as opposed to live in-studio, has allowed for a meticulous crafting of sound. This choice, stemming from 2019 demos recorded by frontman Jeff Tweedy, reflects a production process that’s as thoughtful and deliberate as the sound it resulted in.

Critically, the album has received a warm reception, a testament to the successful experimentation and the fresh sound that resulted from the collaboration with Cate Le Bon. It’s a bold step that has mostly paid off, showcasing a band that’s not afraid to evolve, to venture into new soundscapes while retaining the core essence that has endeared them to fans over the years.

Yet, every experiment comes with its share of risks. While the album delves into new auditory territories, some may find a few tracks lacking the earlier rustic charm Wilco is known for. The sparse arrangements, though meticulously crafted, may come off as too off-kilter for some. Yet, it’s this daring venture into the unknown that showcases the band’s unyielding spirit to evolve and experiment.

In conclusion, Cousin is a courageous endeavor by Wilco, a resolute exploration into new soundscapes that showcases their commitment to musical evolution. It’s a promising step forward, hinting at a band that’s as willing to explore new sounds as they are to delve into new emotional territories. Through Cousin, Wilco has once again demonstrated a knack for crafting melodically rich and emotionally resonant music, a trait that will likely continue to endear them to fans old and new.

James Ewen
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