Wilco: Summerteeth

On their third album, Summer Teeth, Wilco create the roots-rock answer to Beck's Odelay, if not to Brian Eno's Another Green World. Like Beck and Eno, and Brian Wilson and the Beatles before them, Wilco use the studio like an instrument, unreeling minimovies of the imagination, blending and then bending the sound of guitars, drums and a thrift-shop array of vintage keyboards. Summer Teeth's sixteen songs (including two hidden tracks) are a dire bunch — on "Via Chicago," Jeff Tweedy sings to his lover, "I dreamed about killing you again last night/And it felt all right to me." Yet the multilayered textures that snake around Tweedy's troubled voice are often uplifting; Songs that begin in an air of choking claustrophobia end up on the rooftop, gazing at the stars.

When Tweedy cries, "All I need is a shot in the arm," he gets it from the rising rumble of Ken Coomer's timpani, John Stirratt's bass guitar and Jay Bennett's synthesizers. On "Via Chicago," the plaintive acoustic melody is swept up in a space-rock whirlwind, topped off by a majestically craggy guitar solo. "Pieholden Suite" marks an emotional turning point, as synthy strings leap to underline the singer's reawakened passion before a trumpet solo adds a sense of melancholy resolve. Some melodies recur in disguised form; "My Darling," for example, is essentially a slowed-down and distorted version of "Nothing'severgonnastandinmyway (again)," and it suggests that the turmoil has begun to lift. By album's end, the singer is even envisioning a better, brighter "future age."

The complicated production might seem pretty far removed from the days when Tweedy was making live-in-the-studio acoustic records and covering the Carter Family with his old band Uncle Tupelo. Not really. The sound may have changed, but the guiding force remains the same: communicating the mystery and wonder of the song.