WILCO – ” Yankee Hotel Foxtrot ” Classic Albums (Deluxe Edition)

Posted: April 20, 2022 in CLASSIC ALBUMS, MUSIC
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Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

Nonesuch Releases Special Editions of Wilco’s Iconic “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” on September 16th in Celebration of Album’s 20th Anniversary, Wilco’s fourth studio set saw the departure of guitarist Jay Bennett and drummer Ken Coomer – and famously prompted a break with the group’s record label – yet somehow triumph emerged from adversity. Picked up by Nonesuch, “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” would become the Chicago-based alternative rock band’s most successful album. From opener “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” onward, the collection’s ambition is undeniable, with Sonic Youth stalwart Jim O’Rourke’s multi-layered mix applied to some of Wilco founder Jeff Tweedy’s most varied and distinctive songs. With its No1 ranking in the year’s on best-of-the-decade lists in Rolling Stone, Pitchfork and Paste, critical acclaim for the gold-certified “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” So please give the set another spin to wish Jeff Tweedy a happy birthday.

Named in honour of the three-word codes used by short-wave radio operators, Wilco’s fourth album sounds like a late-night broadcast of some weirdly wonderful pop station punctuated by static and the sonic bleed of competing signals. Songs that begin with simple, elegiac grace—“Ashes of American Flags” and “Poor Places”—end in a cathartic squall of distortion. The results can be initially jarring, but it’s these tracks more than the sturdy jangle pop of “Kamera” or “Heavy Metal Drummer” that demand, and reward, repeated listens. Mixed by studio experimentalist Jim O’Rourke and produced by the band, “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” harkens back to a time when the words “pop” and “sonic adventurism” weren’t mutually exclusive.

Great records don’t necessarily always have interesting stories behind them. There’s probably a compelling argument to say that Wilco’sYankee Hotel Foxtrot” doesn’t need one – that regardless of context, it’s simply just an outstanding piece of work. In this instance, however, it’s difficult to separate the album from all of the noise surrounding it. These eleven songs on the original album represent so much more than just the sum of their parts. They stand for the existence (and complete vindication) of integrity and artistic freedom, in a world so often dominated by corporate structures and commercial pressures. Because if something can simultaneously feel like both an instant classic and a slow-burner, then surely this is it.

The backstory is something I’m sure a lot of readers will be aware of, so here goes a brief summary; having recorded the album, and with frontman Jeff Tweedy correctly believing it to be their best work to date, the band submit to their label Reprise records (a subsidiary of Warner) who following an internal shakeup refuse to release it on the grounds that it has no commercial potential. The band negotiate a costly split from Reprise, retaining the rights to the record which they then streamed on their website for free, a ground breaking move (and pretty unheard of at the time). Bizarrely, the band end up signing with Nonesuch records, another subsidiary of the same major label – a move that many critics believe exemplifies just how messed up the music industry is in modern times. The album goes on to amass a huge amount of critical acclaim, and just so happened to shift hundreds of thousands of copies, becoming a gold-selling LP in the process.

Nonesuch release seven special editions of Wilco’s landmark 2002 album “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot”. The now-classic record has been remastered and will be available as part of each set. “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” was the first Wilco release on Nonesuch Records following the band’s infamous split with Reprise (both labels are part of Warner Music Group). It was also the first release featuring the line-up of drummer Glenn Kotche and multi-instrumentalist Leroy Bach joining founding members Jeff Tweedy and John Stirratt. The 2002 Sam Jones film “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” documented the fraught recording and mixing process, personnel changes, and label issues.

Given the legend that surrounds it, the remarkable part is probably that in the fifteen years since its release, the most enduring thing is the music itself. For me, there’s pretty much the whole spectrum of human emotion explored within a microcosm; at times, Tweedy’s abstractly poetic lyrics serve to cryptically mask what is actually quite a personal record while at other points, relationships and communicative failures lie at its heart. It’s the sending of signals in the hope that someone, somewhere will receive – audibly characterised in the broken static and shortwave radio samples that regularly weave in and out. There’s the playful denouncement of love in the opener ‘I Am Trying To Break Your Heart’, but also the hopeful celebration of it by the time the album draws to a heart wrenching close, with Tweedy declaring: “I’ve got reservations about so many things / But not about you”, a chaotic and confused yet beautiful love letter for the modern era.

There’s a penetrating weight to it all, a sincerity which somehow never falls into over-earnestness. It is in many ways a record of constant tension – mostly between the beautiful and destructive – but also mirroring the ongoing conflicts outside the music; between bandmates (guitarist and co-writer Jay Bennett left the band shortly after the album’s completion), and between band and label, the tension between artistic freedom and commercial potential. At once both pretty and dissonant, conventional yet weird, both instant and challenging, it’s a record that rewards the listener with each spin, a phrase which always sounded to me like a useless cliché until I found it to be true. I think the thing I love most about “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is that ultimately there’s just classic song writing and melody at its core, with Tweedy’s voice broken and exposed at the centre of everything, but with complete chaos ensuing all around it.

For me, Jay Bennett perfectly summarizes it with this quote from the documentary “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” – “If the overall song feels good to you, you’re going to fall in love with the little parts of it that are fucked up”. There are swirling organs, crashing drums, distant voices, and dissonant pianos, and in ‘Ashes Of American Flags’ and ‘Poor Places, anthemic moments that descend into walls of white noise and feedback. It comes to me as no surprise whatsoever that over time this is an album that has been repeatedly referenced as being “Americana’s Kid A”.

Wilco marked the anniversary of “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” which was released commercially on April 23rd, 2002, after a circuitous and storied gestation, including a period of streaming for free on the band’s website—with a performance of the album’s “Poor Places” on last night’s Late Show with Stephen Colbert, which may be seen below. The band is currently performing “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” in its entirety (plus a mix of concert favorites and rarities) in two limited runs at New York City’s United Palace and Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre. 

Among Yankee’s inspirations was a recording Tweedy bought at Tower Records in the late 1990s, The Conet Project: Recordings of Shortwave Numbers Stations. As Bob Mehr points out in his new album note, the record got “deep under Tweedy’s skin.” Tweedy said in his 2017 memoir, Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back), “It was as fascinating to me as anything being made by actual musicians using actual instruments … I wanted to know why it was so hypnotic to me. Why could I listen to hours of this stuff, even though I had no clue what any of them were saying. That question became the foundation for “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” … the way people communicated or ultimately failed to communicate.” The album takes its title from a haunting recording of a woman repeating those words that is included in The Conet Project; that recording is sampled in the penultimate song on “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot”, “Poor Places.”

The film gives a great insight into the recording process. Tweedy notes they “generally go for a pretty straight definitive version of what the song sounds like it should be…and then deconstruct it a little bit and see if there’s some more exciting way to approach it”. I adore this as a concept – the fact that what is theirs to have created is also theirs to destroy, and that a song can take any number of routes before it becomes the one that people hear. Ultimately, I think what probably sets the results apart is the combination of the band’s willingness to experimentally rip up the Americana rulebook, but crucially also the mixing work of Jim O’Rourke (Sonic Youth), whose mixes lift them far beyond the Alt-Country genre they had practically created in the first place. At the heart these are gorgeously simple songs, reimagined in an exciting, experimental vision.

Retrospectively, quite how many people these songs have resonated with may have come as some surprise to Wilco’s former label bosses, but not to me. For a record that very nearly didn’t see the light of day, that it exists at all is truly wonderful, and that it exists without compromise is nothing short of remarkable. Maybe some things are worth waiting for.

Wilco was Jeff Tweedy, John Stirratt, Leroy Bach, Glenn Kotche, and Jay Bennett with Craig Christiansen, Ken Coomer, Jessy Greene, Fred Lonberg-Holm, and Jim O’Rourke.

11LP – The Super Deluxe version comprises eleven vinyl LPs and one CD – including demos, drafts, and instrumentals, charting the making of “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” – plus a live 2002 concert recording and a September 2001 radio performance and interview. That box set includes eighty-two previously unreleased music tracks as well as a new book featuring an interview with singer/songwriter/guitarist Jeff Tweedy, drummer Glenn Kotche, and Jim O’Rourke, who mixed the acclaimed 2002 album; an in-depth essay by journalist/author Bob Mehr; and previously unseen photos of the band making the album in their Chicago studio, The Loft.

7LP – Deluxe edition comes in a sturdy box with soft cover book. The set includes the original album, remastered, plus 39 previously unreleased tracks—“The Unified Theory of Everything” alternate album versions plus bonus tracks, a live 2002 concert recording, and a September 2001 radio performance. The set also includes a booklet with an in-depth essay by journalist / author Bob Mehr.

2CD – Expanded Edition includes the original album, remastered, plus 18 previously unreleased tracks—“The Unified Theory of Everything” alternate album versions plus bonus tracks.

8CD – Super Deluxe Edition comprises the original album, remastered for its 20th anniversary in 2022, plus 82 previously unreleased tracks. Includes demos, drafts, and instrumentals, charting the making of the album; a live 2002 concert recording; and a September 2001 radio performance and interview. The set also includes a new book featuring an interview with Jeff Tweedy, Glenn Kotche, and Jim O’Rourke; an in-depth essay by journalist/author Bob Mehr; and previously unseen photos of the band making the album in their Chicago studio.

A live version of “Reservations” from a legendary concert contained on Snoozin’ at The Pageant – Live 7/23/02 at The Pageant, St. Louis, MO—a recording that is part of the Super Deluxe LP and CD sets as well as the Deluxe LP and digital sets—is available now. Full details of each of the seven versions is below; album pre-orders are available here. A limited-edition vinyl 7” with versions of “I’m the Man Who Loves You” and “War on War,” from the Super Deluxe box set, is available now from wilcostore.com.

“After half a year living with a bootleg copy, the music remains revelatory. Complex and dangerously catchy, lyrically sophisticated and provocative, noisy and somehow serene, Wilco’s aging new album is simply a masterpiece; it is equally magnificent in headphones, cars and parties… Beneath the great story of “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot“, there are all the tropes and symbols and coincidences of a little mythology; but under that is a fantastic rock record. And why tell you? You all already knew this.”

thanks to DIS,

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