A Ghost Is Born

Reviewed by: Akiva Gottlieb
Reviewed on: 2004-06-21

Posted 06/21/2004 - 04:13:30 AM by NickSouthall:
 The thing about Stan Brakhage is that his ten-minute films are all pointless, nihilistic black&white; dirges, featuring nothing more than people smoking cigarettes boringly. His best stuff has butterfly wings glued to the filmstock or black&red;&blue;&yellow;&purple;&green; universes painted over each other, and never last more than about two minutes... There's more than something to be said for 'pop'. A great review, and you almost convince me, but I still disagree. AGiB is a nice little album by a nice little band, just like YHF...
Posted 06/21/2004 - 04:15:31 AM by NickSouthall:
 Oh yeah, and there's nowhere near enough love anywhere for "Company On My Back"!
Posted 06/21/2004 - 05:38:51 AM by ddrake:
 They should've done a song over the Coolie riddim.
Posted 06/21/2004 - 03:45:14 PM by IanMathers:
 Haven't heard the album yet, but great review. I really want to hear it now.
Posted 06/21/2004 - 09:30:24 PM by calder:
 >>A Ghost Is Born doesn’t showcase the pretty, NPR-approved Wilco of alt-country past<< Ironically, AGIB got a very enthusiastic review on NPR today from Tom Moon. And it wasn't the melodies or the band history that drew praise but the distortions, insistent loops and wild guitar sounds.
Posted 06/21/2004 - 11:53:59 PM by Shinji:
 In case readers were interested in previewing the album legally, check out http://www.wilcoworld.net/ghost/index.html (QuickTime 6 required).
Posted 06/22/2004 - 12:21:05 AM by kevinm:
 I don't understand how beaches in Michigan shouldn't, geographically, exist. Can anyone explain what that is supposed to mean?
Posted 06/22/2004 - 09:35:24 AM by scottpl:
 there are beaches in michigan! perhaps stylus should run a full splash page retraction of that comment and this review...;)
Posted 06/22/2004 - 10:27:19 AM by :
 Being from ohio, I didn't bother to check the geographical situation of that state up north, hence the editorial mistake. It has now been corrected.
Posted 06/22/2004 - 10:36:25 PM by kevinm:
 you're from ohio and you were unaware that michigan is almost completely surrounded by lakes? don't get the wrong impression: i'm not offended by the mistake or anything. just kind of surprised at the general lack of awareness.
Posted 06/23/2004 - 10:42:30 AM by kevinm:
 The other thing I'd point out in this review is "YHF taught me not only that melody is sweeter when hidden behind layers of noise, but that an album should be perceived as a singular, multi-faceted character instead of a collection." The "melody wrapped in noise" thing had been done, most notably, by U2's Achtung Baby and Radiohead's OK Computer. And listening to an album as a cohesive while instead of 11 individual songs implies you've never listened to anything on vinyl. So I'd say this reviewer is what, 20 or 21 years old? So either he's pretty young, or (God forbid) he's actually much older than that and hasn't attempted to listen to a wide range of music. This album's ok, but it's no YHF, and it's certainly not worth a 10. A 7 if I'm feeling generous.
Posted 06/23/2004 - 01:53:14 PM by kevinm:
 The review is well-written, but it does seem to reveal a lack of knowledge of the antecedents to albums like Wilco's last two. Another commentor mentioned OK Computer and Achtung Baby as other albums with "melody wrapped in noise," and there are countless others spanning the past few decades - from 60s garage rock like the Sonics to kraut rock like Can to Bowie's "Heroes" to punk to post-punk to Husker Du to the Pixies to Nirvana. Not that an artist needs to create something entirely new in order to make a great album; surely, one could also trace the lineage of "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot," which I consider to be the best album of the 2000s so far. Is any art really new in the port-modern era? Also, I really can't agree with rewarding A Ghost Is Born a perfect 10 simply because the reviewer perceives a lack of album-oriented rock in the marketplace. Like there wasn't enough of that in the 70s and the 90s?!? According to the cyclical law of musical trends, AOR will be back in the next decade, so be patient. Mostly, though, I just think A Ghost Is Born is a drag. Some reviewers seem impressed simply by the fact that Wilco aren't trying to top the pop charts (did they ever?), but I'd be more impressed if they made an album that I actually wanted to listen to. Music in the year 2004 is no better or worse than it's ever been - there's a fair amount of crap, but it's balanced by great acts like the Notwist, Hot Hot Heat, the Streets, Interpol, Radiohead, Bjork, Franz Ferdinand, the Libertines (well, maybe, hopefully), and the Wrens, whose The Meadowlands is a whole album experience that comes a helluva lot closer to the status of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot than a muddled and mediocre album like A Ghost Is Born ever could. A perfect 10? Nah, more like a 6.3.
Posted 06/24/2004 - 02:29:01 AM by kevinm:
 so why is everyone commenting as kevinm?
Posted 06/24/2004 - 03:43:18 PM by kevinm:
 Thanks to the reviewer and commenters. Going to check out that Wrens album one of you mentioned, never heard of them. As to A Ghost is Born, I have to throw my hat in with the reviewer. Judging the album three days into it, with one full listen last night on the headphones, I find it very moving. Can't really find anything to compare it to, at least not other music. And do we really need to attempt to define the experience of listening to it by comparing it to other tunes? The real question is -- does it grab you, does it reach you emotionally? Yes. How can you not get swept into the reward of Spiders, when Jeff Tweedy sings over the guitar and noise for the last time at the end. It kills me. The whole album might seem dark, but it has an optimism in its lyrics and musical structure.
Posted 06/24/2004 - 04:25:05 PM by kevinm:
 It's tough to know this definitively, but I'd hazard a guess that this album is not one ot which I'll be returning in the future very often. It sounds like it was made by someone who looks at life through an oxycontin haze. AGIB elicits no feeling in me.
Posted 06/24/2004 - 06:18:51 PM by kevinm:
 Great review, it seems like the reviewer is at the beginning of a musical exploration process and I wish him/her luck. I also thought that I'd point out the fact that Wilco is most definitely a jam band, perhaps more so than any other categorization. If you were to see them live or watch the "I am Trying To Break Your Heart" documentary, you will notice that a lot of their material is composed on the jam. Tweedy may write most of the skeletals, but the band fleshes it out through jamming. My favorite band of this generation by far. :-)
Posted 06/26/2004 - 06:00:00 PM by kevinm:
 Really well written review...to clear a few people up who blame the reviewer for not crediting U2 or Radiohead for the "melody behind noise idea" - he explicitly SAYS that he could have learned this lesson numerous times previous - thus, the claim is never made that Wilco invented this approach. That said, I disagree with the idea of this album being "perfect" - this is somewhat arrogant music, which, while sometimes obnoxious, is laudable for at least having courage. In a day when numerous artists cash in, Wilco makes no attempt - they make the music they want to make, almost completely removed from the popular tastes - that's admirable in my mind.
Posted 12/04/2004 - 03:36:23 AM by mfgdog:
 What album was this reviewer listening to? I keep playing this record over and over, but the only thing that stands out is "spiders" which, of course, is a complete rip-job of Can. Sometimes bands get way more run than they deserve, and Wilco is definitely one of them. This review resorted to becoming an essay about the Great american album simply b/c this person loves Wilco and there's nothing else to say about the slop on this record. P.S. Don't quote stanzas of lyrics in a review,puleaaaaase!
Posted 04/12/2006 - 02:21:51 AM by PlatypusQuest:
 BEST WILCO ALBUM. Period. It has the most beautiful melodies, Jeff Tweedy's best singing, and some of the best songwriting they've ever done. A lot of people seem to dislike the production, but I LOVE Jim O'Rourke -- even his crazy stuff on the Mego label. If any album from '04 deserved a perfect 10, this was it -- "flaws" and all.