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Old 02-05-2009, 09:03 AM   #11 (permalink)
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Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (Nonesuch; 2002)




I admit I might have over thought my first review for Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an album worth praising and analyzing. At the end of the 90s, soon after Summerteeth, something strange happened to Wilco, a train of circumstances that create a story that alone propels an album to classic status. It’s a case of “the lead singer has a vision so the rest of the band better comply or **** off,” a-la My Bloody Valentine in Loveless albeit My Bloody Valentine are still the same band going in as they were coming out. But the comparisons still apply. Just like Loveless, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot took about two years between its creation and its release; there were money issues, illnesses (migraines for Tweedy and insomnia for Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine) and the end result was an album that explored new sonic landscapes.

This is where the story gets good: thinking that the album had no “pop appeal,” Wilco’s label for the past three albums, Reprise, refused to release it. So they took their demos and went to Reprise’s hotter, smarter little sister Nonesuch Records, and the album gets released in 2002 to both critical and popular acclaim, becoming Wilco’s highest selling album at the time. I’m not sure who said it, but I once heard someone say that Tweedy was the first individual to successfully mix Folk/Country with a laptop. But don’t fear, people – this isn’t the second coming of Cotton Eyed Joe. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is instead a masterpiece of song structure and progression, easily the band’s defining moment and pinnacle. The most amazing thing is that nothing on Yankee Hotel sounds like anything that came before it, not even Summerteeth. The songs are so dense that even the more straightforward tracks like Kamera and Pot Kettle Black would have been out of place in anything that came before, and to be honest, anything that came after. Thank Jim O’Rourke, who once co-produced Stereolab’s fantastic “Emperor Tomato Ketchup.”

Most people criticise Yankee Hotel for its predominantly low-key tracks, making the album boring or uninteresting. It honestly boggles my mind, but I think I understand what happened. Most new listeners trying to get into Wilco are taught that the band is a mix of alternative, country, and sometimes psychedelia. When “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” comes on, most of these people don’t know what’s happening, and the confusion only builds up in the next 6 minutes. It also happened to people who listened to Summerteeth or A.M shortly before jumping into Yankee Hotel. When they don’t hear “Can’t Stand It” or “I Must Be High” right away, they are likewise confused. It doesn’t help that the lyrics make no real sense, and just when you think you have the album pinned down, Kamera comes on and ****s up the entire system again. So, for the first three tracks, two of which are over five minutes, the listener doesn’t know what to believe. It’s just too much of a mind****. So, mix low-key songs with questionable production and wtf lyrics and you’ve got the first few minutes of Yankee Hotel. This isn’t alt country! Then there are the more patient listeners who get the album right away, or who thrive in being tossed from one idea to the next – who get that there’s more to the album than they’ve been led to believe. And there is.

Tweedy is no longer singing about the same people and emotions with the same immediacy as Wilco’s preceding releases. He’s singing about them under a veil of static and interference, as if his mind was being affected by the electronic distortions that accompany each track.

I wholeheartedly believe that Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is a classic. I just know that generations from now people will appreciate it much more than it is now. From its production and release story, to its song hooks and progression, and to its minimalist album cover, everything about the album spells out modern classic. We just don’t all get it yet.

So, yes, I would call this their OK Computer; their most successful album, where the band perfect its sound and hasn’t since been able to top the achievement. I would also call it their Sgt. Pepper’s LHCB for its experimentation. From this point on the band will sound more cohesive but less interesting, like the Beatles in Abbey Road.
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Old 02-05-2009, 05:04 PM   #12 (permalink)
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"So, yes, I would call this their OK Computer; their most successful album, where the band perfect its sound and hasn’t since been able to top the achievement. I would also call it their Sgt. Pepper’s LHCB for its experimentation. From this point on the band will sound more cohesive but less interesting, like the Beatles in Abbey Road."
You're right--I totally agree with your perspective now that I read your rationale. Yankee Hotel--like Sgt. Pepper's--is the band's apex in experimentation and creativity. After that, it becomes tighter, but less experimental. Thanks for your review--it makes sense to me. (Of course, Wilco is still kicking, so they might surprise us with another burst of creativity...)

I also agree that all the 'nay sayers' about Yankee Hotel who don't listen or don't listen closely, will one day be surprised by the album's rise to "classic" status.
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Old 02-06-2009, 12:22 AM   #13 (permalink)
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It happened in my initial review for this album. The members of the forum that commented at the time happened to be into more heavy music, so it was unfortunate that they were the first few people to respond to my thread. It's unfortunate because they brought the album's value down for everyone else that read the thread after.

I just hope people give this a chance. Thanks Johne, I like you already : D
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Old 02-06-2009, 01:44 PM   #14 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Roygbiv View Post
I just hope people give this a chance. Thanks Johne, I like you already : D
They do the same with Radiohead. I don't want to squelch anyone's voice or opinion, but on the whole, I like reviews and threads that work off of the merit of the album given its genre. There are other threads that allow reaction based on taste alone--that's not what reviews are about. (See thread review of OK Radio started by Davey Moore--I mentioned and plugged your thread, and I agree with everything I see you writing so far!).
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Old 02-06-2009, 01:57 PM   #15 (permalink)
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Such a great album. I agree with pretty much everything you said about it. I never knew the story behind that album, it makes it even better to learn what went into it. I can't really see Wilco getting better than this album. After Sky Blue Sky, I can kind of see the direction their going in and I just don't see them ever doing something better than YHF.
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Old 02-06-2009, 08:39 PM   #16 (permalink)
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The unfortunate thing about this forum is that most of the members that have been here a while (and new members that have read enough threads to feel as if they have been here for a long time) are tired of the hype that some individuals attach to certain albums. The preferred scene in this forum, I find, is the very underground scene, albums that are so off the radar that hype is impossible to attach. But what I realized some time ago is that hype is there for a reason - it builds momentum for a reason. Every important album in history has had some great hype behind it at some point or another, that's why we get the greatest albums of all time lists from different editors.

It's just a matter of WHO gives the hype. For example, Neutral Milk Hotel's fans aren't the best at hyping the album.

Anyways, review for a Ghost is Born is coming very soon ; )
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Old 02-08-2009, 02:01 PM   #17 (permalink)
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A Ghost Is Born [Nonesuch; 2004]



Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was the black sheep of Wilco’s discography. There’s a clear thematic progression from A.M to Summerteeth; that is, you feel Tweedy grow as his song writing matures. Yankee Hotel stands still, doesn’t feel like a growth in lyrics as much as it does in music. And then came A Ghost Is Born, probably Wilco’s most depressing album and Tweedy’s most frightening incarnation. One of the first things you’ll notice about the album is that two of the songs, the second and penultimate songs, are both over 10 minutes long. Wilco have never composed a song that long, and for it to happen more than once is, if not interesting, then a bit worrisome. The fact becomes more affecting when the first song, At Least That’s What You Said starts playing. The song starts off very quiet, so quiet in fact that you can barely hear Tweedy, who sounds like he’s giving up on singing altogether. Will the two 10 minute songs be as dull as this? You think, until the song picks up with a long garage jam that would have never found a place in Yankee Hotel’s eccentric production, Summerteeth’s psychedelia, and A.M’s perfect alt-country. It would have made sense in Being There, but even then it would have been a stretch. As soon as At Least That’s What You Said picks up, you know that A Ghost Is Born is, once again, nothing like what came before. Wilco are good at doing that.

A Ghost Is Born does something exceptionally interesting and, ultimately (if you have the patience) rewarding: It is the sequel to all Wilco releases thus far. It is the culmination of every idea and every character that had been created by that point. In A Ghost Is Born, Tweedy marries the overwhelming flaws he’s been hinting at up to that point with the violence and malevolence he’d been brewing since Summerteeth, but also with the good guy he’d been subtly adopting since his early days. His flaws are best exemplified in At Least That’s What You Said, where Tweedy comes to love the relationship he’s part of despite the black eye he sports from his love, as if the girl from She’s A Jar (from Summerteeth) finally hit back; In Handshake Drugs, where in the end he surrenders to his significant other, telling her that all he wants to be is what she wants him to be, so “exactly what do you want me to be?” And in Wishful Thinking, where he thanks his lucky stars that “you’re not me.” His flaws also seem to feed his evil, exemplified in Hell Is Chrome where Hell is, to him, a place where he belongs, a paradise better than Earth, and where the devil doesn’t force him to do anything, instead asking him to “come with me.” Strangely, Tweedy also sings about things that kind of make him the good guy, as in Hummgbird and Wishful Thinking, but don’t let those two songs convince you of anything, for Tweedy is once again a bastard in Less Than You Think. As for the similarities to Yankee Hotel, Jim O’Rourke returns to produce this one as well, but the album doesn’t sound like Yankee Hotel. There’s no static (except for the last 10 minutes of Less Than You Think) and no Heavy Metal Drummers, but perhaps that’s best.

A Ghost Is Born is more cohesive, and makes more sense than anything that came before. It really draws an atmosphere, making you feel like you’re trapped inside the egg on the album’s cover, a prison from which you escape only to find nothing of value outside of it. It will take a lot of patience to get through this album if you’re expecting the sequel to Yankee Hotel or even the spirit of Summerteeth, but you may find it well worth it. They band has never really written anything as affecting, or as haunting. Don’t be surprised if it becomes your favourite of all of them.
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Old 02-08-2009, 06:13 PM   #18 (permalink)
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Very nice reviews and a great thread. The last three albums are such great albums and I could never pick a favorite of the three because they are all so amazing. Was your favorite Wilco album always YHF or has it changed around, or do you not have a favorite like me?
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Old 02-08-2009, 11:23 PM   #19 (permalink)
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The only one I can listen to from beginning to end 100% of the time and constantly blows my mind is YHF, though a Ghost Is Born is starting to grown on me, and Summerteeth is close behind YHF.

Thanks for your constant readership : )
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Old 02-10-2009, 11:12 PM   #20 (permalink)
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Sky Blue Sky (Nonesuch; 2007)




I don’t like Sky Blue Sky. It’s too tame, sounds too polished and the song writing takes two steps backwards for everything that they did right. And they did do a few things right here, namely the opening track Either Way, but after Either Way’s perfect hooks and besides Impossible Germany’s nice jam, Sky Blue Sky is easier forgotten, and better off, to be honest. Although A Ghost Is Born was relatively tame as well, it was still an ambitious, courageous album. Sky Blue Sky just feels like an album made by a band that forgot its fans for a few recording sessions. It feels like an album that an album taking the lazy way out would make. There are a few admirable tracks, namely the two mentioned above and Hate It Here, but you’ll find you’re trying to convince yourself that it’s all really not as bad as it seems, that after a few times it’ll get better. It does, but there are more engaging things to listen to in the meantime. Depending on what you're looking for in Wilco - last eras country songsmiths or exciting, experimental Yankee Hotel Foxtrotters - you might favour or hate this album. To me, it belongs in the background, and it might be the same for you. Deal with that or skip this entirely.
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