Throughout Wilco’s discography, Jeff Tweedy has always had a deft knack for transforming the entire mood of their music with nothing but a slight vocal inflection. It’s that masterful control of vocal melody that underpins his songwriting, to the extent that, even throughout some of Wilco’s more predictable, uneventful days (read: most of the past decade or so), Tweedy continues to command an audience. Ode to Joy, the band’s most impressive record in years, sees Tweedy and Wilco having mastered their own delicate blend of indie rock, Americana and alternative country.

‘Bright Leaves’, the opening track on Ode to Joy, pens this mission statement. Mournful phases of echoey, isolated guitar ensure a persistent mood for Tweedy’s sombre lyricism, making it clear that Ode to Joy is wholly intended to be intricate and intensely emotive, but also discreet. As one would probably expect from veterans like Wilco, the album relies heavily on listeners’ patience (and multiple listens) to fully engage. Tweedy’s typically tasteful vocal melodies are one of the immediately satisfying devices, and yet it’s the instrumentals that make Ode to Joy a more significant and enjoyable Wilco record.

Ode to Joy is, above all, a subtle and understated work. But, more importantly, it’s focused and constant. It doesn’t have the equivalent of The Whole Love’s ‘Art of Almost’ or Star Wars’ ‘EKG’; tracks that, though impressive, stylistically stood out and often overshadowed large swathes of the rest of those records. Ode to Joy’s instrumental quality is spread evenly across the disc, with tasteful phasing and modest soundscapes penetrating even the more meandering cuts. Ode to Joy has few eventful moments and yet, give it enough time, and every inch of its subtlety becomes audible.

It’s difficult to escape the fact that there is little to commend Ode to Joy for beyond its exceptionally competent loveliness. That is, however, no reason to completely disregard it. Despite their iconic status, it’s easy to forget that Wilco are far from incapable of putting out underwhelming releases (indeed, bar a few tracks, they’ve had far fewer hits than misses since 2002’s A Ghost Is Born). Ode to Joy does more than just rest on the laurels of Jeff Tweedy’s indelible vocal melodies and, with its comfortably competent songwriting and general lack of any real, conceited excess, is easily one of their better releases this decade.