New releases from Wilco, Marillion and Okkervil River 

Sound Advice

click to enlarge Wilco
  • Wilco




File next to: Gram Parsons, Ryan Adams, Spoon

If Wilco's 2015 surprise album Star Wars counted as a relaxed, understated effort to back away from complexity of previous efforts, Schmilco seems like a set of B-sides or acoustic demos from that same set. This does not make the album a throwaway. There's something worthwhile or captivating about each of the dozen songs here, including the obligatory dissonant experimental song common to every Wilco album — in this case, "Common Sense." But virtually all the tunes, such as "If I Ever Was a Child," employ a light touch and a smile. They are a sign of just how far Tweedy has come from since his turn-of-the-millenium years, when everything Wilco created seemed drenched in portent and danger. Schmilco serves just fine as a back-porch collection of mellow songs, signifying nothing in particular. — LW

click to enlarge Marillion
  • Marillion




File next to: Pink Floyd, Blackfield

On their 18th studio album — 14th with frontman Steve Hogarth — UK progressive rock outfit Marillion returns with its first new release since 2012's Sounds That Can't Be Made. The 17 tracks that make up the album are clearly designed to be taken as a whole; more than half of the disc is comprised of a pair of extended, suite-like pieces, "The Leavers" and "The New Kings." Despite the paranoia and aggression hinted at in the title (short for "Fuck Everything and Run"), F.E.A.R. is a lush work full of stately, near-static pieces the suggest post-Roger Waters Pink Floyd, while the unified-work approach calls to mind Waters himself (if he were a stronger vocalist). Listeners looking for musical hooks may have to dig deep, but F.E.A.R. has plenty of the qualities that have won Marillion fans across the globe. — BK

click to enlarge Okkervil River
  • Okkervil River

Okkervil River


ATO Records

File next to: Conor Oberst, Shearwater

Austin's Will Sheff always leaned toward a certain majesty in Okkervil River's brainy folk-rock. But with more than a dozen ex-members, the band is teetering on the verge of myth, as suggested by Away's opening track "Okkervil River RIP." Sheff enhances arrangements with unexpected elements like dissonant chamber quartets, solo flute and trombone, with backing vocals from Marissa Nadler and Sheff's former bandmate, Jonathan Meiburg, of Shearwater. Still, arrangements play second fiddle to Sheff's stunning lyricism. What can you say about "Call Yourself Renee," a track that tries to spin off "Walk Away Renee" with the tale of a Rapid City, SD wanderer? Whether Sheff uses the Okkervil River name again or not is irrelevant, as long as he keeps marrying astonishing lyrics with music that reaches far beyond today's pop-rock norms. — LW


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