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Twelve Years of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

by Rob Slater on April 23, 2014

Sometimes in music we happen upon a story of an album whose backstory almost exceeds its musical worth. That's what we have here with Wilco's fourth effort, 2002's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Not only is it widely considered one of Tweedy and Co's best work, but also marked a new direction for the group. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot would see the band's first release on Nonesuch Records following a tumultuous departure from Reprise Records. Listeners would also hear drummer Glenn Kotche make his Wilco studio debut after the inflexibility of then-drummer Ken Coomer forced Tweedy to make a change, a post Kotche has held ever since. A completely engrossing, lo-fi listening experience from the first note, Wilco crafted it's masterpiece amidst heavy tension and uncertainty, creating songs that still stand as live staples today ("I'm the Man Who Loves You," "Jesus Etc.") and further establishing their grasp on the indie throne.

From a lyrical perspective, the listener finds Tweedy at his absolute rawest and most vulnerable. From the first track, the wildly popular "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart," we get a glimpse into the struggle of uncertain times and confusion as told through a love story as only Tweedy can do, ending each verse by posing an introspective question presumably battling with the inner-voice we all experience in the midst of challenge. As the album progresses, songs like "Radio Cure," "Jesus Etc." and "Ashes of American Flags" widen the scope of the writer's lyrical aim, not just addressing his own personal struggles, but the struggles in the world as a whole.

As the dust settles on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Wilco delivers a master class in the art of the album closer with "Reservations," a completely psyched-out track unlike any of the ten songs that precede it. Just when you think you had the band pegged, they hit you with a devastating right hook that shakes you to your core. Even with all of the hits, if it weren't for "Reservations," the album wouldn't have felt complete. The last minute contains a bleak whimper of a sound that ultimately fades into the haunting and unpromising darkness, giving way to deafening silence and putting the most torturous and profound punctuation onto the entire 50+ minute ordeal.

Also, required viewing for today is posted below in the form of Sam Jones' I Am Trying to Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco chronicling the band's YHF sessions and everything (good and bad) that surrounded it. Needless to say, it is the best 90 minutes you'll spend all week and is undoubtedly one of the most revealing and intimate looks at a band who is very good at maintaining a certain amount of distance from the outside world.


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