Wilco: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
By Mark Grabowski
I have balls of steel. You want proof? Other than my exceptional “standing up to bullies” ratio (5 confrontations: 1 turning the other cheek), and my no-fear method of taking tests the last year of college (highest test score in one class: 45%), I have the guts to say, even at this early date, that Wilco’s new album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, will be the best rock album of the year.
Wilco frontman and principal songwriter Jeff Tweedy has walked a long and winding road. He began his somewhat rocky musical career in 1987 playing in the now renowned alt-country band Uncle Tupelo, which, in the simplest of terms, melded punk rock’s energy with the truth of good country music before breaking up in the Spring of 1994.
From the ashes of Uncle Tupelo, Tweedy formed Wilco, and after a pop-ridden and not exactly stellar debut, they began to evolve into something far removed from Tupelo’s down-home style. Their next two albums glorified great song writing and careful tune construction. On their third, Summerteeth, a hint of things to come. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was the light at the end of the rabbit hole.
The first Yankee track, “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” opens with a steady buildup of sounds: an organ here, a guitar there, on and on to a more straight ahead tune– until the end. In the first of three “breakdowns” across the album, what was a more or less straight-ahead pop-rock becomes a noise collage, for want of a better term. Pianos can’t keep time, guitars drop out, drums disappear, and sound effects reign; this is not the sweet country-pop pap of your father’s Wilco. This is Wilco on acid.
Some of the highlights on the album include “Jesus, etc.” with a gorgeous viola/violin opening; “Ashes of American Flags,” a slow song about nothing; and “I’m the Man Who Loves You” with the longest continuous vocal verse line since Heroes and Villains by the Beach Boys. (I've been in this town so long that back in the city I've been taken for lost and gone and unknown for a long, long time.)
Personally, I don’t feel I’m out on a limb at all declaring Yankee Hotel Foxtrot the best album of the year already– it’s an awesome creation, fit for years of careful headphone study, and easily lives up to the hype surrounding it. If someone releases a better album in the next six months, I will own up to my mistake and print a retraction, and cover myself in maple syrup.
But something tells me it’s not going to happen.