With 15 years and five albums now snugly under its belt, this long-running side project from Wilco’s John Stirratt and Pat Sansone has had a full life of its own. The group’s songs are generally solid (if a little indistinguishable), though every now and again they flirt with classic-pop brilliance. I’d venture that it’s these breakthrough moments that keep ‘em coming back album after album between Wilco tours. That and familiarity—from the sound of things, The Autumn Defense drafted a pretty strong stylistic blueprint for the band from the get go, and they’ve stuck to it.
At their best, they channel the kind of chiming Byrds-influenced jangle propagated by artists like Big Star and The Raspberries, or—more often—they update the gauzy, sun-dappled AM radio rock of the late 1960s and early-to-mid ‘70s. Fifth falls in line on both counts, highlighted by the wistful, contemplative power-pop anthems “None of This Will Matter” and “Things on My Mind” but also lined with a lot of forgettable folk-tinged Middle of the Road rockers, the latter swirling together in a nondescript sea. Looking at their body of work, this is a band that’ll be well-served by a “Best Of” compilation.