Released: April 23, 2002 Label: Nonesuch Producer: Wilco
For this recording, Wilco was:
Leroy Bach: Guitar Jay Bennett: Multi-instrumentalist Glenn Kotche: Percussion John Stirratt: Bass Jeff Tweedy: Vocals
How surprising was it really that Wilco would release their own OK Computer? Since their major debut, A.M., Wilco have been constantly broadening their horizons. Originally labeled as an alt-country band, they seemed to really start to break that mold on their third album, Summer Teeth. After collaborating with Billy Bragg for a second time, drummer and longtime member Ken Coomer left the band and was replaced by Kotche. So what would the fourth album hold for Wilco? With complete freedom to do as they pleased, the band began to record Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Things however took a turn for the worse when rising tension caused guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Jay Bennett to leave the band. To complicate things even more, Warner Bros. rejected the album and thought it should be more commercially accessible. When Wilco refused, they were dropped from the label while buying their studio recordings for a fairly cheap price. After touring with their new material, Wilco was signed by Nonesuch Records, which is ironically owned by Warner Bros. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was then released to much critical acclaim and positive fan reactions, therefore ending the story that turned into a musical legend.
I Am Trying to Break Your Heart (6:58)
The first track is definitely the most expansive and unconventional song on the album. From common household objects (I think I remember seeing them use a washboard) to advanced electronic equipment, Wilco uses quite a lot on this track. The most definitive sounds on the track are the sparse notes from the piano and Jeff Tweedy's nonsensical but captivating lyrics. Even though they might not make sense, Tweedy's vocals sure to apply a great sense of emotion. "Disposable Dixie cup drinker/I assassin down the avenue/I've been hiding out in the big city blinking/What was I thinking when I let go of you."? These lyrics seemingly make no sense but they still somehow fit appropriately with the climax of the song. From there on out, things fall apart in a swarm of noise and feedback; one of the complaints about the album in general. Even with this experimentation in noise, the opening tracks is just a cleverly disguised pop track, representative of Wilco's method of creating songs and going back and taking them apart to do whatever they please. A recommended listen. To really see the "heart and soul"? of the song, I recommend listening to the acoustic version , found in the Wilco film, I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.
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There's quite a change of pace between these songs. Kamera is a very upbeat acoustic song with some infectious harmonizing vocals. The little touches throughout the song make it interesting and keeping with the theme for the album. The song is very straightforward but very enjoyable and recalls the conventional Wilco sound, making it worth listening to.
Radio Cure (5:09)
Another change of pace, Radio Cure starts out very slow and gloomy, with the focus on the vocals. The song very gradually picks up with some background noises and tuned percussion. There's one sound that I swear could be someone playing a saw. By the second chorus (although the song doesn't really have a totally typical structure) the song is in full swing (which isn't exactly heavy) and caps off a very pleasant building. The song reaches its peak with the melodic and emotion section of repeating "Oh distance has no way/Making love/Understandable."? The song then ends how it began; "Cheer up/Honey I hope you can."? Radio Cure doesn't necessarily stand out as much as some of the other songs, but it is still enjoyable and builds rather nicely.
War on War (3:49)
Personally, War on War has the best introduction of all the other songs. The acoustic guitar(s) are soon joined by what I'm guessing is a synthesizer, which creates a really groovy feeling once the drums enter. The song than transitions into the verse, starting with the repetition of "It's a war on war." Everything seems pretty upbeat but the lyrics beg to differ. "You have to lose/You have to learn how to die/If you want to want to be alive."? Things begin to end sort of how they began with the same feel and effects, until the song collapses into some noise. Definitely a recommended song.
Jesus, Etc. (3:52)
Warm, forlorn, and heartening, Jesus, Etc. is one of the best tracks here, marked with its gentle simplicity and elegant, light strings. The mix of the strings, piano, and Tweedy's vocals create such a warming effect, while the strings and overall mood can seem both saddening and comforting. Not to leave everyone else out, the drums and bass keep the song moving at a steady pace and fit in just perfectly in such a delicate song. The chorus seems so genial, but there's something about "Tall buildings shake/Voices escape singing sad sad songs"? that's slightly chilling. This is again a song that's recommended.
Ashes of American Flags (4:45)
From the first notes coming out of the guitar, Ashes of American Flags already seems a bit gloomy. Contrived in a post 9/11 world, the lyrics make sense ("I wonder why/we listen to poets/when nobody gives a f***" ? is pretty self explanatory), but when strung together as a song, the meaning seems rather vague at times, although the general tone is one of sorrow and hope. Either way, the aching chorus of "All my lies are always wishes/I know I would die/if I could come back new"? is packed with somber emotion. The third chorus introduces a bit of instrumental backing that sounds as if it's playing a big band tune from one of your grandparents' old records. Like much of the album, the song just collapses in on itself in the last minute. An artistic statement? Maybe. Does it seem a bit lengthy and annoying? Yes, although the piano segue into Heavy Metal Drummer is pretty neat. Overall, it's another bleak song that relies on its very strong songwriting.
Heavy Metal Drummer (3:08)
The album takes a great big swing upward with this song. You really can't be too critical of Heavy Metal Drummer. It's obviously a huge pop song and probably an attempt at radio play (which it mildly succeeded in). However, the fun and nostalgic nature of the song can't be denied. It's simple and catchy, but in a respectable way. "I miss the innocence I've known/Playing Kiss covers/Beautiful and stoned,"? may not seem like the greatest chorus ever, but it's so cheerful that you owe yourself to listen to the song and put a smile on your face. The drum loops and scattered effects are also pretty neat, as is the catchy piano tune.
I'm the Man Who Loves You (3:57)
Another pop song, but this one is much more creative and unique. The song begins with a distorted electric guitar at first repeating the same note over with off beat rhythms. The wonderfully harmonized vocals enter and instantly absorb you in the song. The lyrics are very playful and smooth, perfect for the overall mood and tone. After the second chorus the guitar from the beginning reenters for a bit lengthier amount of time. By the time the third verse comes, the band is joined by a brass accompaniment that adds a perfect touch to the chorus. Catchy, infectious, good natured, and unique, the Beatle-esque I'm the Man Who Loves You is another recommended song.
Pot Kettle Black (4:00)
Yet another accessible song (but not in an overpowering and overly catchy pop song sort of way), Pot Kettle Black is another song with some great song writing, in terms of lyrics and the song itself.
Originally Posted by Pot Kettle Black
It's become so obvious
You are so oblivious to yourself
Tied in a knot
But I'm not gonna get caught
Calling a pot kettle black
Every song is a comeback
Every moment's a little bit later
The classic idiom "Calling the pot kettle black"? (which basically means being hypocritical) works very well. The lyrics overall flow very well, as does the song. The acoustic guitar and smooth vocals are a bit like Kamera, but with more [tuned] percussion. The orchestration thrown in here and there is also very good. Yet another pleasant to listen to song, which leads into the next track.
Poor Places (5:18)
There's something so inviting about the low, soft beeps in the beginning of this song. There's such an incredible building feeling in the beginning of the song; the piano, drums, vocals, guitar, and effects all keep growing. The piano then switches to a sort of jazzy and upbeat sound, while the drums follow suit. The acoustic guitar then enters with the memorable chorus. To keep with the odd song structures, there's really only one big verse and one chorus, followed by an intricate instrumental section. And somehow the repetition of the last line of the chorus?, "I'm not going outside"?, is surprisingly catchy and has a positive lasting appeal. The lyrics overall are again pretty well, although instead of working towards a common theme, I think these work very well in providing some good imagery and easy to relate to lines. While all this is going on, a female British voice enters repeating "Yankee. Hotel. Foxtrot."? soon enters, sounding like someone talking over a PA system. Of course, from here on out the song transitions into noise, with the female voice still playing. Some people may love the idea of random noise, some people may hate it. Personally, I don't think it really has much of a negative effect, but I also don't think it necessarily adds anything vital to the song. Overall though, this is a wonderful song that would make the perfect album closer (as the actual closing song is slightly disappointing). It's lush and uplifting, yet mellow and emotional at the same. Poor Places is highly recommended.
The album closes with Reservations, which is a bit disappointing. The piano introduction is gentle and haunting with the feedback in the background. The lamenting vocals express a good deal of emotion. The lyrics are simple and nothing so special, but they're adequate, as seen by the chorus, "Oh I've got reservations/about so many things/but not about you."? The first three minutes would make a decent song that could work as a closing track, but it's the following four minutes or so that disappoint. It of course turns into noise, but instead of being abrasive, it's depressing and boring. As stated before, Poor Places would've seemed to have been a much more appropriate ending.
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is arguably the creative peak of Wilco's career. It's also arguably on a level with or above Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots in terms of one of the most unique, creative, and expressive albums of 2002. YHF breaks away from the band's alt-country roots that Jeff Tweedy helped pioneer with Uncle Tupelo. The album still keeps some of this influence, but mixes it with an expansive set of instruments and plenty of noise, thanks to engineer Jim O'Rourke. The music here is accessible without being too simple and catchy, but it also offers a superb level of depth in its interesting arrangements and classic songwriting. Some of the noise additions do get tiresome and annoying, and a very small selection of songs aren't as stellar as they could be. The famous story surrounding the album may not survive in the future, but the music will surely be a classic that's constantly looked back upon. It doesn't really fit in one small genre, yet it offers something for all fans of music. Therefore, being as unbiased as possible, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot deserves a: