The album opens with static. The distortion bleeds into a sonic maelstrom of competing radio signals before a backbeat of drums launches the first song, “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.” Welcome to Wilco’s fourth CD, which is named for a short-wave radio code and is easily the band’s finest, if not defining, moment.
The story behind Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is typical rock and roll melodrama. After the band’s first three albums on Reprise, the label laughed at this new album and warned front man Jeff Tweedy et. al. that it would ruin their careers. Rumor has it the band bought the masters for $50,000 and shopped them around until finding a happy home with Nonesuch. Following on the heels of releases by such diverse musicians as Emmylou Harris and the Kronos Quartet, it seems a fine place for Wilco’s experimentation.
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was produced by the band and mixed by studio experimentalist Jim O’Rourke (of Sonic Youth and Stereolab fame). In the best tradition of The Beatles’ four-track innovations, this album blends pop music and sonic exploration, proving they do not have to be mutually exclusive.
The album comes across like a late-night broadcast from a strange and wonderful pop-music station located somewhere in time and space. Songs that begin with graceful intros, such as “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” “Ashes of American Flags,” and “Poor Places,” end in static and distortion. Other tracks such as “Kamera” are pure pop jingles, catchy and fun. This album is destined to become a classic.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Aug. ’02 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.