Wilco
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot


5.0
classic

Review

by Justin Swope USER (85 Reviews)
July 25th, 2013 | 14 replies


Release Date: 2002 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is mysterious and chilling masterpiece that shows just how far love is from understandable.

Ever since I was a young boy, people have been telling me that life is one big journey, a test of character. We are told once we cross through the adversity of seemingly insurmountable obstacles and stumble upon the road less traveled that happiness and beauty will follow. Of course, like any test, there are those who succeed and those who fail. But what is success? What is failure? More importantly, what is happiness? These are questions that surface in the minds of tortured souls who will stop at nothing to fathom the purpose of living another day. Thus, it's often quite helpful to turn to music to mitigate personal angst and to connect on a visceral level with oneself. Still, music does not have all the answers. In fact, Wilco's landmark fourth album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, is the one posing these doubts as it weaves its own flustered web of trepidation, skepticism, and heartache.

However, it's much more than a painstaking rumination; it's also a complex and gripping musical endeavor from a band in the wake of evolution. Wilco's sound is more cohesive than ever and their meticulous execution shows immediately when the agitated ambience of "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" comes out of the woodwork. With this album it becomes clear that Summerteeth was indeed a transitional record. On Yankee Hotel Foxtrot Wilco muster their most brooding tendencies and push their own boundaries beyond the typical degree of comfort, realizing a sophisticated sound without diluting their highly focused and potent songwriting that made them respectable up to this point. Tracks like "Kamera" and "Radio Cure" lyrically signify a sort of damage control, the postmortem of a past mistake, and, magnified by the band's inventive instrumentation and composition, carry more cogency than just the words themselves. The sound of Jeff Tweedy uttering "There is something wrong with me" above the garbled textures of "Radio Cure" paints an awfully bleak picture of stifled anguish. The entire album is suffused with an air of torment, dissatisfaction, and isolation.

Nevertheless, Wilco make this leap into singularity immensely stimulating. The layers upon layers of keyboards, percussion, electronics, can each take the spotlight with multiple listens, and the group experiments with everything from song structure to sonic arrangement. However, while the sound is often mysterious and distant, Wilco's performance is perpetually compelling. The heartfelt declaration "I'm the Man Who Loves You" gives rise to an inebriated guitar that shamelessly stumbles as Tweedy pours his heart all the way up until the passion runs rampant along with an outbreak of horns. Also, the woeful strings of "Jesus, Etc." are enough to induce goose bumps when Tweedy quietly sings, "You were right about the stars. Each one is a setting sun." Wilco impressively employ such an expansive sound through a variety of instruments and effects while never relinquishing the album's intrinsic humanity. Therefore, the band always maintains a small degree of transparency, like on the song "War on War", which opens with a sprawling effect of astral proportions before the band cleverly answers with a lucid and infectious rhythm.

As a result, Wilco has successfully made a record that both challenges and invites. Artistically unsullied, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot does not emit an immediate glow. Rather, it flickers from a distance, shyly inching its way toward clarity. And yet, despite the patience it demands, the inspiration it draws from is extraordinarily relatable. Jeff Tweedy and Jay Bennett convey their disillusionment with a disintegrating culture, societal oppression, and the empty promises of the American dream. Perhaps more significantly, however, there is an overwhelming sense of personal crisis smothered across the LP - feelings of remorse, worthlessness, and the fear that death will interrupt potential fulfillment. "Ashes of American Flags" illustrates an aimless life without meaning as Tweedy solemnly sings, "All my lies are always wishes. I know I would die if I could come back new." Moreover, Wilco provide remarkable melodies to give their ideas both color and distinction. With not a weak track to be found on the album, the songs work together smoothly to construct a lush atmosphere that thrives on adventurous aural tangents that are oblique, yet stunning.

The forward momentum of "Heavy Metal Drummer" and the subdued domain of "Reservations" showcase Wilco's range, sauntering between sheer excitement and plodding introspection. This variety contributes to a delicate balance between the cold and the warmth of the album. In addition, the album's production plays a crucial role alongside the eclectic instrumentation. The billowing electronics and effects are nimbly inserted into these intriguing rock songs, creating a unique and mind-bending series of sounds that frequently take the reins and usher the tracks to unexpected places. For instance, "Poor Places" becomes more and more foggy as it approaches its conclusion until the reverberation of a looping vocal transmission is the only thing preventing the listener from being swallowed by complete oblivion. These strange barrages of disarray produce a dazed influence, but they ultimately serve to swaddle a package of exceptionally sensitive and dynamic tunes.

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot remains a relevant record today both musically and conceptually. Infused with a desire to augment and deepen their songwriting, Wilco perfectly demonstrate an idiosyncratic shrewdness as well as an ability to turn negative emotions into provocative and incredibly beautiful musical pieces. For all the conflict surrounding this album - namely, the band being dropped from their initial label for an album that was perceived to be unsellable and outlandish as well as the tension between Tweedy and Bennett - the music speaks for itself and steadily endures. While it might be difficult to fully grasp love and happiness, this album shows that it's out there somewhere. You just have to reach for it.

Favorite Tracks:
Poor Places
War on War
I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
Kamera
Ashes of American Flags



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user ratings (1077)
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Comments:Add a Comment 
YetAnotherBrick
July 25th 2013


4505 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

absolutely fantastic review. some really stunning descriptions here, man. you did one of the best albums ever complete justice

Digging: Soul Coughing - Ruby Vroom

IslamicPenguins
July 25th 2013


72 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

Excellent review for an excellent album, one of the best I've seen in awhile

demigod!
July 25th 2013


45005 Comments


nice review.

i've been meaning to check this album for years. think i'll finally do that tonight.

Digging: Autechre - LP5

Gwyn.
July 25th 2013


15272 Comments


nvr heard it in full, but idk what to think of what i did hear

ashcrash9
July 25th 2013


396 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Fantastic review.

tommygun
July 25th 2013


25117 Comments


swee review as always pos hard keep forgetting to jam this

Digging: Banks - Goddess

breakingthefragile
July 25th 2013


2962 Comments


Really sweet review Justin. Judging from your reviews, I think you're such a damn good reviewer because you really take a lot of time to know an album inside out and understand what it means to you when you review it, at least that's what I think shows through your writing. Pos'd, as always.

tommygun
July 25th 2013


25117 Comments


agreed breaking

jtswope
July 25th 2013


2447 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Wow thanks a lot gents. Been wanting to review this for a long time, so I guess I had a lot to say about it.

Yotimi
July 25th 2013


6548 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Good review. Never liked this though

Digging: Sand Circles - Motor City

AliW1993
Contributing Reviewer
August 8th 2013


7401 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I've had this album for ages, but it's slowly become one of my favourites over the past few months. I think what I love about it the most is the way it's so intricately detailed, yet even with all the orchestration and wacky percussion Tweedy's songwriting is always center stage.

jtswope
August 10th 2013


2447 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I feel the exact same way.

Ocean of Noise
July 4th 2014


540 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

Perfect album

Artuma
July 4th 2014


15442 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

awesome review, pos'd as per usual

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