Sunday, June 21, 2009

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

Effortlessly transcending their parochial country-rock origins and bravely vaulting into the higher echelons of storied alternative rock, Wilco hit both widespread critical acclaim and commercial paydirt with 2002's masterful 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot', which still arguably holds the record as the Chicago outfit's most artistically realised accomplishment. It's also one hell of a post-modern rock album, taking in assorted genres like ambient music, jangle-pop, gritty Springsteen-like balladry, power-pop and prog-rock, all held together by almost genius-level production values, courtesy of veteran, visionary studio wizard Jim O'Rourke.

The highlights on 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot' are wonderfully multifarious, and come fast and hard. Opener 'I Am Trying to Break Your Heart' is epic, layered drone-pop of the highest order, incorporating logical bits from mid-1970s progressive rock and post-millennial avant-garde dissonance. The intentionally obtuse 'Radio Cure' rides along on distorted acoustic-guitar riffs and some skewed synth-pop qualities, while 'War on War' is filtered, digital-era country psychedelia with appropriate sonic twists.

Meanwhile, both the subdued but blissful 'Kamera' and the nostalgic and effervescent 'Heavy Metal Drummer' are bouncy pieces of jangle-pop that supply the album's pop-smarts quotient. The emotionally wrenching 'Ashes of American Flags' is arguably the record's most fervent instance, with its veiled allusions to 9/11, while the elegiac grace inherent in 'Jesus Etc' is spiced with some slide-guitar musings and violin keenings. The band also pays sly tribute to one of their original heroes with the spiked, stuttering 'I'm the Man Who Loves You', which bristles with the ragged-but-right spirit of early-era Neil Young.

The home run of the album is distinguished by two absolutely jaw-dropping epics. First up is the mutated chamber-pop of 'Poor Places', which seethes with wistful acoustic-guitar strummings, graceful piano chords, hypnotic ambient noise and somewhat spooky found-sound samples, all secured together by an off-kilter time signature. Appropriately enough, the proceedings end with the nearly eight-minute 'Reservations', a greyscale-toned, classic existentialist-angst meditation, whose ostensibly laborious tone-poem structure belies a vivid pop-informed melodic essence.

As it stands, 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot' is an ingenious opus that is absolutely breathtaking in its artistic breadth and inventive depth, making it one of the true musical standouts of the early 21st century. Proudly bearing stunning creative sensibilities and stylistic complexities that are becoming increasingly rare in modern-day rock music, 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot' strongly corroborates the belief that Wilco are the once and future standard-bearers of American experimental rock. Long may they reign.


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