WILCO

Sky Blue Sky (Nonesuch)

First: There are no 12-minute hums this time around. Unlike the experimental ambition (undercut in some places by static performances and actual static) on Wilco's last album, A Ghost Is Born (2004), Sky Blue Sky is as warm and inviting as the title suggests. Singer/songwriter Jeff Tweedy has traded his raspy growl for a tender croon, which ranges from a whisper to a wispy falsetto and gives his frequently vague lyrics ("Somewhere there's a war/ Sometimes there's art," he sings on "Shake It Off") a hint of vulnerability. The band's new lineup (their sixth over six studio albums) fleshes out the songs with lengthy guitar solos, swampy electric pianos and proggy rhythms. The sonic power never overwhelms (the guitars are too thin and too smooth to rock), and the result is somewhere between wimpy and pretty. The songwriting can be formulaic, with a number of mid-tempo tunes evolving into lengthy guitar battles. Still, the last three songs -- the bouncy "Walken," the country-leaning "What Light" and the eerie "On and On and On" -- are sunken treasures worth waiting for.

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