Friday, October 17, 2008

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

Band: Wilco
Album: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Best song: "War on War," "Kamera" and "Heavy Metal Drummer" are great Wilco songs. However, the opener, "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" is where the band was going and reflected a new musical direction.
Worst song: "I'm the Man Who Loves You" is OK, but not to the level of the rest of the album.

Despite Wilco's recent decent into suck (as well as Jeff Tweedy's erraticism in regards to other band members), the band's two best albums hold up against basically anything else recorded. Summerteeth is a record on par with Pet Sounds for American optimism. Like another 1999 release (seriously, 1999 may be the best year for albums in my lifetime), Summerteeth was a striking piece of post-genre work produced with the sheen of a pop record.

No doubt, Summerteeth is great. But, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is similarly great. Put together during the band's rockiest period -- see the Sam Jones' documentary I Am Trying to Break Your Heart for the full story -- the uncertainty of 2002's YHF reflected the times in America. Indeed, during the record, Tweedy's anxiety got the best of him, the band's label basically dropped them and Tweedy essentially kicked Jay Bennet out of the band. Again, see the movie.

Bringing in super genius and all-around Chicago scenemaster Jim O'Rourke brought the band's production to a different place. Gone were the symphonic bells of "Can't Stand It," replaced by the smaller, softer bells of "Kamera," an acoustic-guitar-driven number on the frustration of perception. Gone are the keyboards of "I'm Always in Love" -- a brilliant song, by the way -- and replaced by the electronic drum into to "Heavy Metal Drummer." The dissonance and disjointed "I Am Trying to Break Your Heat" replaces the irony of "Nothing'severgonnastandinmyway (Again)," how ever ironic it may be.

Indeed, O'Rourke's experience with noise is well-placed within the record. Make no mistake, YHF is full of melodic, non-distorted parts. But what sets it apart from previous Wilco records is the ability to translate that to O'Rourke's magic. "Ashes of American Flags" clearly had lyrical resonance in early 2002, but the song's overarching disjointed sound reflects the spirit of the times. "Radio Cure" is strange and distorted with bits of tape and Tweedy's voice being the only constants in the song.

Tweedy's songwriting and layering is the star of the album. "Pot Kettle Black" is Page-esque in its several acoustic and electric guitar parts. "Heavy Metal Drummer" has the oooooos and aaaaaas of a 70s ballad, whipped under a midtempo stomp. "I'm the Man Who Loves You" has the crazed Ornette Coleman-esque guitar solo in the intro and outro over a pop lyric. "War on War" is a stomper of a song, with gorgeous chimes and percussion.


I would say that Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is a study of a band in transition, save for the fact that Wilco is seemingly always in a transition mode. Nevertheless, the most chaotic period in the band seemed to come around the recording and mastering of YHF and the results are, not surprisingly, wonderful. Along with Summerteeth, YHF established Wilco as a creative force.

No comments: