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Wilco lead singer Jeff Tweedy performs at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans, Thursday, May 5, 2011.

Patrick Semansky/AP

The Whole Love Wilco (dBpm/Anti-)

Do you know where R.E.M. got the name for its breakout 1992 album Automatic for the People? It was the catchphrase of a restaurant owner in Athens, Ga., who aimed to please: You want it, you got it, "automatic for the people."

Have you ever been to the Wilco-themed sandwich shop in Toronto, Sky Blue Sky? The menu items are prepared fresh and meticulously, no substitutions or even minor alterations, please. They make what they make, figuring you'll like it.

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R.E.M, the jangly Georgia alt-rockers, just broke up after 31 years. They were a major-label act who did their best to stay indie, selling a heck of a lot of records along the way. My favourite was 1994's Monster, an abrupt stylistic change, what with its distortion, sonic bluster and general bigness. Some fans didn't cotton to it.

Wilco – whose sole original members are singer and chief songwriter Jeff Tweedy and bassist John Stirratt – zigs and zags more than R.E.M ever did, rankling its followers with music that veers from alt-country to more experimental fare.

Which brings us to The Whole Love, Wilco's latest album and the first on its own label. The 56-minute disc begins with an aberration, Art of Almost, which starts moodily with beats, static and an onrushing cloud of synths. It sounds like something out of England; Kasabian maybe.

When the cloud breaks, Tweedy steps forward into a sonic clearing: "No, I froze, / I can't be so, / Far away from my wasteland …"

To some Wilco fans, the almost industrial sounds, foreboding ambience and wild outro of Art of the Almost will be disorientating; others will revel in the boundary-pushing, though the rest of the album is nowhere near a departure.

I Might has an unstoppably bouncy Motown bass, juicy keyboards, ornamental glockenspiel, sweet-pop backing vocals and abrasive new-wave guitar. Sunloathe, solo John Lennon in a shade of grey, finds Tweedy singing about doubt and self-hating.

Finally we get to Dawned on Me, the first Wilco-y track, upbeat and tuneful with Stirratt's prominent bass again – it's a force on this fine, sonically pleasing and far-ranging record – and whistling from Tweedy. Black Moon is a darkly cast, finger-picked love song, with a touch of Mellotron. Capital City is a ditty like the late-career Beatles did. Standing O, a straightforward rocker, disappoints.

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Though I can't be sure what constitutes a quintessential Wilco album, The Whole Love might be it. Tweedy admires Woody Guthrie, Elvis Costello and The White Album, and he has a jazz-leaning guitarist on his team in Nels Cline. As he sings on one sweet and atmospheric ballad: "I would love to be the one to open up your mind."

Not sure why R.E.M. broke up, but I think I can guess why Wilco endures: They make music for themselves, hoping but not depending on others to listen. The Whole Love ends with One Sunday Morning, a gorgeous comedown, 12 minutes long. Tweedy has said it's the kind of song he'd like to fall asleep to. Me, I find that the pitter-patter of the drum brushes keeps me awake.

But it's his song, not mine. Wilco's not trying to break anyone's heart. Rather, they're trying to fill up their own. For the best ones, that's automatic, people.


Lamentazione: Sacred music of Scarlatti, Leo, Legrenzi, Lotti and Caldara Les Arts Florissants (Virgin Classics) 3 stars

These are grand, doleful, multivoiced choral works from the Italian baroque – a "Miserere," a "Stabat Mater" and three settings of the "Crucifixus" with separate parts for eight, 10 and 16 voices respectively, each conjuring, with dissonant harmonies and a busy thrum of counterpoint, the press of mourners at the base of the cross. The excellent singers of Les Arts Florissants are directed by English tenor Paul Agnew, who now shares conducting duties with the group's founder, William Christie, but although the music is extraordinary, the performances are less nuanced than one expects from this ensemble. The many voices swim in an overly resonant acoustic, and the choir's straight-edged precision (and the laser peal of high sopranos) is more reminiscent of the (English) Tallis Scholars in late Renaissance repertoire than Les Arts Florissants' curvaceous baroque interpretations. Elissa Poole

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Father, Son, Holy Ghost Girls (True Panther) 3 stars

Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy, whose indie-rock project is called Girls, writes songs about girl. Yep, San Francisco's Christopher Owens is one lovelorn dude, spilling his music-nerd sadness on a sprawling sophomore album that isn't so morose, and not really one-tracked (at least musically). While the 2009 debut Album drew comparisons to the Beach Boys, Father, Son, Holy Ghost mixes things up, from the Buddy Holly-meets-Sloan of Honey Bunny to the deeply purple prog-metal of Die. Vomit is the centrepiece – an epic in Pink Floyd fashion, with a longing refrain ("looking for love") that sums up the album's hangdog lyrical passion. Brad Wheeler

Girls plays Montreal's Corona, Sunday; Toronto's Mod Club, Sept. 27

Duets II Tony Bennett (Columbia) 2.5 stars

Although Frank Sinatra set the template for the swinging, all-duets album concept, Bennett generally gets more music than showbiz sizzle from his efforts, which is why Duets II disappoints. There are some great moments, including a sultry Speak Low with Norah Jones and a misty Blue Velvet with k.d. lang; the Body and Soul he cut with Amy Winehouse is one of the best recordings of her short career. But while the Lady Gaga Lady Is a Tramp is delightfully camp, it doesn't repay repeated listenings, and a number of Bennett's guests – John Mayer, Mariah Carey, Sheryl Crow – are woefully out of their league. J.D. Considine

SuperHeavy SuperHeavy (Universal) 2 stars

They ain't super-heavy, and they ain't brothers. The disparate parts Mick Jagger, soul singer Joss Stone, Eurythmics-famous Dave Stewart, Slumdog Millionaire composer A.R. Rahman and reggae royalty Damian Marley have teamed up to make a mediocre record that doesn't honour any of them, a half-baked concept without much in the way of memorable songs. Jagger flaps his lips at some West Indian rapping, reggae-rock happens and Stone is underused. The Jagger-sung acoustic ballad Never Gonna Change dapples like heyday Stones, and World Keeps Turning is an all-star anthemic single looking for a charity to support. But, really, this is a cocktail party that doesn't take off. B.W.

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