Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot - Wilco

In 2001 Wilco finished production of the album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (YHF), due to a debacle with Reprise Records the albums release was delayed for a year. On April 23, 2002 the band released the album under a new record label, Nonesuch Records. As a result of the time delay Wilco streamed the entire album on their website, which allowed thousands to experience YHF.

I am going to preface this review by saying that I listened to this album multiple times before the review; each time I put a pencil to paper in an attempt to take notes on my likes, my dislikes and the subtle nuances of the songs. My paper is still blank. I was completely engrossed in this album. I just can't believe it took me almost eight years to finally experience YHF. That said, score and the breakdown below.

Score: 34/40

Sound 10- I loved the sound of this album. A lot of bands with singers rely on the singer to produce the emotion any given song is intended to convey. Wilco does just the opposite in YHF. Jeff Tweedy has a solid voice, very much indie/alternative rock, but his voice rarely makes you feel the music. If the portrayal of emotion through sound is a foreign concept to you (the reader) listen to Karma Police by Radiohead. On Karma Police Thom Yorke's voice drips with emotion and the band is really just background noise. In YHF it is the band that breathes life into the album. Although the vocals are spotlighted, Tweedy's lyrics really play second fiddle to the instrumental. You're not going to forget that Tweedy is there singing, but when you really listen and hear the album you hear how the instrumental is the driving force behind YHF.
I am Trying to Break Your Heart, the first song on the album is divine. Listening to the words the song tells the story of an inebriated Tweedy, looking for love. The song starts with drums that are just a bit off, not out of time but there is something noticeably queer about their beat. As the song progresses Tweedy reveals his intentions with the girl is he trying to bone and the instrumental gets more focused. I mean at the end of a long night of drinking who doesn't want to do the horizontal mambo? The prospect of making whoopie gets pretty much anyone pretty focused and the band portrays this through their music. The song concludes with Tweedy and the band expressing the rage that Tweedy feels for himself, and for his actions with a series of crashing and agonizing cries of "I am trying to break your heart". It's reallly quite brilliant.

Musical Ingenuity 10- It is a disservice to write about the musical ingenuity of YHF without mentioning a bit of its back story. The music samples The Conet Project heavily. I know all of you readers are rushing to your itunes to see if you have The Conet Project, but you probably don't and for good reason. The Conet Project is a series of shortwave radio station transmissions whose origins are a well kept secret. Perusing the internet you hear that the frequencies are for spies in the field, but the intention of the transmission was not for it to be made into music. Enter Akin Fernandez. Fernandez, finding brilliance in the mundane, puts together these short wave radio transmissions and creates a 4 disc set called the The Conet Project. Wilco took samples from these songs and used them throughout their album to produce a lot of the radio like sounds including the scratching and focusing one hears when trying to tune an old radio.
Enough back story, on the to the music. Its 2010, retroactively reviewing an album from 2002 is a difficult task. Wilco made it pretty easy, how? Well they made a great album. I mentioned earlier the concept of emotion through sound that Wilco masterfully captures in I am Trying to Break Your Heart, the rest of the album follows suit. Most notably there is masterful imagery and emotion expressed in Ashes of American Flags.
Ashes of American Flags paints a vivid picture with sound. Wind chimes open the song to a simple and somber piano medley. The slow marching sound is reminiscent of walking through an empty town, devoid of life. The artists use a series of sounds that create an ambient wind like noise (most likely from The Conet Project) which promotes the idea of a place lost to the world. The whole song really comes to a head when he states "I would die if I could come back new" everything dies down and two piano chords and a guitar melody play. Then the wind noises come to the forefront, in what I imagine is the sound of time just speeding up around you.A quick escape of air and the song ends. My picture may not be the same as yours, but when a group can make me not only hear, but see their song it is a huge accomplishment.
There are some simpler indie-rock songs, such as Heavy Metal Drummer and I'm the Man who Loves You. Heavy Metal Drummer consist of a catchy drum beat, some maracas and simple light guitar chords. It sets itself apart with blatant but unobtrusive electronic parts. I'm the man who Loves You sounds like a Beatles song. This song isn't a pitiful copy of a Beatles song, it creates an identity that defines it as a Wilco song.
The music on this album is beautiful, the instruments don't take a backseat to the singer, and this sets YHF apart from the crowd.

Lyrics 7- The lyrics on this album are fun to sing a long to, but comprehending what Tweedy is actually talking about is another matter. I am sure that Tweedy has some meanings to his songs that over the last eight years fans have been trying to interpret. While interpretation and finding your own meanings in the songs is great (I would encourage it), some of these lines upon reading them just made me exclaim, "what?". Let's take a look at Poor Places shall we?

Excerpt from Poor Places:

"it's my father's voice trailing off
sailors sailing off in the morning
for the air conditioned rooms
at the top of the stairs

his jaw's been broken
his bandage is wrapped too tight
his fangs have been pulled
and I really wanna see you tonight"

I have no idea what this could possibly mean, which is consistent with a lot of the lyrics on this album. Heavy Metal Drummer is pretty easy to decipher, making it anomaly on YHF.

I am a big fan of when a band drops the album name in the album somewhere. I don't know why, I just like it. Makes it seem like the album name has a purpose and wasn't just a bunch of words thrown at the wall and seeing which stuck. The name Yankee Hotel Foxtrot comes once again from The Conet Project. The woman on The Conet Project repeats "Yankee. Hotel. Foxtrot" on the 4th track and this part was sampled by Wilco and placed eloquently in the end of Poor Places. It also happens to be where the album name came from.

Approachability-7 This is a great album that is really easy to listen to over and over again. During the course of this review I listened to it multiple times and loved it. You don't need to know all the subtle details to understand it, and the words dont need to make sense for it to sound good. Some people may be off put by the lyrics, because they really don't make sense a lot of the time. Also the samplings from The Conet Project may not be pleasurable for some. However if you really give this album a good listen, there is a lot to love about it.

Favorite Track: I am Trying to Break Your Heart

Overall: 34/40 This album is a great addition to any music library. If you enjoy alternative rock you should have it already, if you like good music (that sweet soul music) you should invest in YHF, and if you just need something to listen to give this album a thorough listen and post your opinions in the comments.

Next Review: Guero -Beck

PS: If you want to check out the emotion in Thom Yorke's voice duing Karma Police here is the link.

Quick Note: School has started back up and as much as I would love to post everyday, I can't. It wouldnt be fair to rush through an album while studying only to partially hear it then write a shitty review. Therefore reviews might be a little farther and fewer between but I will try to put out at least one or two a week. Tell your friends about the blog, leave comments and find new music.

Keep Rocking.

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