Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

Release Date: April 23, 2002

★★★★★ Tracks:


War on War

Jesus, etc.

Ashes of American Flags

Most of us dreamed of doing something great when we grew up: fireman, astronaut, scientist, teacher, hooker, etc. Me? I dreamed of being in a rock'n'roll band. And I got to live that dream while I attended college, albeit briefly, and on a very small scale. My version looked nothing like it does in the movies. The creation of art, the camaraderie, the fame, the girls, the money, the drugs, the touring -- we romanticize the idea of a band to complete unbelievability. Are those things really attainable, or even something musicians should be striving for? Regardless, I do miss it dearly, and given the opportunity I would start a band up all over again, if only for the realistic goals of artistic expression and camaraderie.

Jeff Tweedy has been living the dream for quite some time now, and on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, he lets us know it's not all it's cracked up to be. Our loved ones know all about the stories of the road, and Tweedy is having a hard time balancing his marriage and his career. There's tension within the band, a newborn child at home, trust issues, loneliness, addiction, exhaustion, and a problem with chronic migraines I can relate to; most subjects hardly new to the annals of rock'n'roll singers. But Tweedy approaches the topic with unparalleled prose, and the lyrics contained within YHF could easily be ripped from a book of poetry.

"Radio Cure:"

"Oh, distance has no way of making love understandable"

"Ashes of American Flags:"

"I'm down on my hands and knees
Every time the doorbell rings
I shake like a toothache
When I hear myself sing

All my lies are only wishes
I know I would die if I could come back new"

"Poor Places"

"There's bourbon on the breath
Of the singer you love so much
He takes all his words from the books
That you don't read anyway"

"Jesus, etc."

"I'll be around
You were right about the stars
Each one is a setting sun

Tall buildings shake
Voices escape singing sad, sad songs
Tuned to chords
Strung down your cheek
Bitter melodies
Turning your orbit around"

Wilco continues their descent through the rabbit hole of studio experimentation with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. And it continues to pay off. They add track splicing, delay and multi-layered guitar effects, bringing the Beatles' studio era to mind. Radiohead-like blips and beeps and atmospheric background noise are ever-present. Synths abound throughout, as well as voice and percussive sound manipulation. They also involved more people in the production of the record. Replacing Ken Coomer on drums is Glenn Kotche, who's versatility the band preferred. And one of Jeff Tweedy's favorite musicians, Jim O'Rourke, is responsible for a large portion of the experimental mixing. While all of the changes and studio magic may sound overbearing, the added touches are subtle, culminating in small but very effective nuances to what is a simple yet astonishing and unique folk record.

I have't bothered with any Wilco albums following Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. I know I shouldn't assume I wouldn't like them, but the dismissal of Jay Bennett from the band has left me less interested. And it probably had to happen; there is a point in the Wilco documentary, I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, where Tweety literally becomes sick to his stomach following a very uncomfortable argument with Jay Bennett on how a track should be edited (which I'll include below, skip to 4:00 if you don't want to wait). Sometimes cohesiveness and morale is more important than creativity. But that tension and competition between the two of them is partly responsible for bringing Wilco to its creative heights, and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is a testament to that.

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