Yankee Hotel Foxtrot turned out to be one of the most heavily praised albums of the ’00s, and with good reason. This is about as ambitious as anything you’ll find these days in popular music, and it proved to not be commercially viable enough for their label, Reprise, so Wilco was let go, and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot wound up being released on Nonesuch, which, like Reprise, is a subsidiary of Warner Music Group. Much has been made of this story of Wilco leaving a Goliath to sign with a David, but it’s a little misleading, since both labels are owned by the same media conglomerate. (It is true, however, that Reprise is home to powerhouses like Neil Young, Green Day, Fleetwood Mac, Eric Clapton, and even Enya, all of whom have more commercial appeal than Wilco by anyone’s measure.)
Wilco’s use of trippy electronics underneath acoustic arrangements invite comparisons to Radiohead‘s more recent work, but to me the Velvet Underground especially comes to mind on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, particularly in the way they mess with your sense of reality. (The Velvets’ debut The Velvet Underground & Nico is another honorable mention, incidentally.) The production is key here, as it allows Wilco to shift moods with remarkable ease. The sprawling seven-minute opener “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” is as grounded and straightforward as it is psychedelic and bizarre. It’s not hard to follow by any means, but the way it manages to pull you in a lot of different directions at once, thanks to the layered, detailed production, is no small feat.
On the other hand, track 2, “Kamera,” is arguably the least demanding song of the entire bunch. It’s bright and cheery, and is followed immediately by the intensely moody “Radio Cure,” which is almost unbearably dreary. But the constant shifts make Yankee Hotel Foxtrot one of the most repeat listen-friendly albums of the past ten years, as every time you cycle through it, you pick up something new you haven’t heard before. It’s a rich, rewarding tapestry, and frankly, I don’t know what took me so long to give it a spin. Well, actually, I do. I simply wasn’t aware of it until the “best of the ’00s” lists started coming out at the end of 2009. It then took me probably another year and a half to pony up ten bucks to download it on iTunes, since I’m cheap. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is an album that will be probably climb the ladder as the years go by, but for now, I’ll have to be content with it just barely making the list. I will say this: if you’re someone who believes that good music isn’t made anymore, buy this album.