In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “In a way, it’s like Wilco are leaving the odd, ambiguous thread hanging, letting the listener fill in the gaps of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot for themselves.”
Here we are, the album that introduced me to Wilco. But I wouldn’t say it introduced me to my love of Wilco. I remember it being released and being raved about for a long, long time. In 2002, I was too deep into my Reel Big Fish and Tenacious D obsession to find time to actually listen to these soft, acoustic, country tinged sad sacks. But when the praise had gone unabated a year or two later, I caved in and listened to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot… And I thought it was the pretentious work of soft, acoustic, country tinged sad sacks. Another year or two passed and I saw the documentary that covered the making of the album, I Am Trying to Break Your Heart. All of a sudden, I got it. I re-listened to the record immediately after watching the movie, and I have been a Wilco fan ever since. So any excuse to revisit Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is always a good thing.
As much as I love it now, hearing I Am Trying to Break Your Heart lead things off reminds me why I didn’t quite get it as a loud music obsessed 22 or 23 year old. It’s so meandering and empty in places, with Jeff Tweedy almost whispering some of the lyrics through a slack, lazy jaw. The tinkering toy piano, the arrhythmic drums, the extended length. All of that seemed like such a wank to me back then. These days, they’re all the exact same things that make this one of the songs I revisit most often.
The mood lightens with the upbeat sweetness of Kamera, before getting into the death march like, slow determination of the ominously acoustic Radio Cure. Then it’s back to the upbeat prettiness with the repetitive and driving but gentle guitars of War on War. Wilco’s alt-country roots peak through with the pedal steel and fiddle infused melancholy of Jesus, etc, before the sonic nostalgia trip that is the rustic, stripped back, anti ballad to years gone by, Ashes of American Flags
The nostalgia continues to roll out with the much more toe tapping Heavy Metal Drummer. Hearing Tweedy use is voice at its most vulnerable to reminisce about watching heavy metal music and playing Kiss covers while stoned, while giving his story of lost love and regret a rose coloured spin, makes for one of the most upbeat moments on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, while never losing any of the weight of the more serious songs here. The happy portion continues with I’m the Man Who Loves You combining pop prettiness with dirty guitar riffing, blues slide and even a horn section.
Like the elaborate, if enigmatic sound that kicks this record off in I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, it gets more ambitious and soundscape-like as things begin to come to end with Poor Places. In a way, it’s like Wilco are leaving the odd, ambiguous thread hanging, letting the listener fill in the gaps of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot for themselves.