erasing clouds

Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

reviewed by Erin Hucke

If you're one of the seven Wilco fans who hasn't heard yet, the band parted from their record label Reprise this summer over creative differences about Wilco's upcoming album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. While the album won't have an official release until sometime next year after they sign with a new label, it is being streamed over Wilco's official website and shared through Napster substitutes. The latter is how my copy was obtained and it might just be the best illegal act I've taken part in.

From the moment I heard "I am Trying to Break Your Heart," the album's opener, I knew this was a different Wilco album. Jeff Tweedy's voice mumbled lowly with restraint from the high points while controlled drums and strange organ tones backed periodic bell rings.

While the band's last record, Summerteeth, held on to the last few connecting threads to Wilco's country roots ("She's a Jar," "Via Chicago"), Yankee Hotel Foxtrot snips them completely, not even attempting to keep an affiliation with any sort of roots rock.

YHF still has a sad, country/blues attitude, but if I had not known Wilco had previously made country music, little on the album would clue me in. The range of instruments and audio techniques used on the album promote Wilco from alt-country poster boys to post-Pet Sounds composers.

"Radio Cure" mixes ominous piano tones from the low end of the keyboard with flat acoustic guitar strums. Tweedy's gently strained vocals yearn "Cheer up honey, I hope you can / there is something wrong with me," before the song turns upward with a hopeful, toy-like organ chorus.

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot lacks the poppiness of Summerteeth, save for "Heavy Metal Drummer," "Kamera" and "I'm the Man Who Loves You." But fans of a Wilco as heard on Summerteeth and the second Guthrie-inspired Billy Bragg/Wilco partnership Mermaid Avenue II will be delighted with the band's decision to continue on their non-country road. Others hoping Summerteeth was a passing phase may not be so pleased.

But I can safely opine Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is the best record not to be released this year and daringly say it deserves the title of best record overall.

Issue 7, October 2001 | next article

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