Wilco's 11th album, 2015's Star Wars, was a playful and angular set of noisy pop and pop-friendly noise, and it seemed fitting that it literally appeared out of nowhere, with the band sending it out as a free download without any advance warning one July afternoon. Little more than a year later, Wilco has released a follow-up, Schmilco, and in many respects this album is the flip side to Star Wars. Schmilco feels every bit as spontaneous as Star Wars (and much of the material was recorded during the same sessions), but where the earlier album seemed full of the joy of making music, this one is somber and low-key, a set of navel-gazing music even as the tunes confirm that Jeff Tweedy's way with a melody hasn't failed him. Acoustic guitars dominate most of Schmilco's 12 songs, with Tweedy's vocals right up front, sounding introspective and emphatic at once.
Wilco's 11th studio album, Star Wars, opens with "EKG," a 1:16 burst of skronky guitars that sounds like a few capable grad students imitating early Sonic Youth after a few beers, and if it seems like a goofy way to kick off the record, that's a big part of the album's charm. Wilco released Star Wars as a free download on July 16, 2015 with no advance notice (a day later, the band announced that the physical release would hit stores on August 21), and the element of surprise fits the playful, casual nature of the album. Where Wilco (The Album) and The Whole Love were enthusiastic but artful and crafted with care, Star Wars feels like an album full of experiments and happy accidents, 11 songs where the group members gathered in their rehearsal spot, rolled tape, and let their muse do what it will.
Alpha Mike Foxtrot, is a 4-CD box-set of rare studio and live recordings collected from Wilco's extensive archives spanning the acclaimed Chicago band's 20-year career. Rolling Stone calls Alpha Mike Foxtrot "a comprehensive document of a great band with endless secrets to reveal" and the Austin Chronicle dubs it "a rousing release for fans." Produced by Grammy-nominated producer Cheryl Pawelski, co-founder of Omnivore Recordings, whose credits include Big Star's Keep an Eye on the Sky, The Band's A Musical History and Townes Van Zandt's Sunshine Boy: The Unheard Studio Sessions and Demos 1971 1972, Alpha Mike Foxtrot features 64 pages of liner notes that include track-by-track recollections from Wilco founder Jeff Tweedy, notes by band members Nels Cline and John Stirratt, and reflections from members of Wilco's extended professional family. The booklet also showcases dozens of archival and never-before-seen photos from a wide array of photographers chronicling all phases of the band's career.
The two volumes of Mermaid Avenue, released in 1998 and 2000 and named after the New York street where legendary folk artist Woody Guthrie lived in the 1940s, were collaborations between cult American alt-country/avant-garde rockers Wilco and revered British protest singer Billy Bragg, on which they set to music previously unreleased lyrics by Guthrie. This exhaustive four-disc set features both releases together with a whole new album of previously unreleased songs and the documentary Man in the Sand, which chronicles the project.
Collection includes: A.M. (1995); Being There (1996); Mermaid Avenue, Vol. 1 (with Billy Bragg) (1998); Summerteeth (1999); Mermaid Avenue, Vol. 2 (with Billy Bragg) (2000); Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002); A Ghost Is Born (2004); Kicking Television: Live in Chicago (2005); Sky Blue Sky (2007); Wilco (2009); The Whole Love (2011).