From the first moments of the first song on Wilco’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” — the definitive record from one of the definitive bands of the past 20 years — a sense of pain and confusion prevails.
Infusing the melancholy tunes: a gurgling antenna drone, a radio dial searching for a signal, a chaotic drum beat and a ringing alarm clock that leads into the lyrics:
“I am an American aquarium drinker
I assassin down the avenue
I’m hiding out in the big city blinking
What was I thinking when I let go of you?”
If America wanted optimism in the wake of 9/11, Wilco denied it. In lieu of patriotism, lead singer Jeff Tweedy venerates the consumer Americana of ATMs, Diet Coke and cigarettes.
Through 11 avante-garde songs that run the gamut of Americana, powerpop and noise rock, Wilco paints a landscape of a troubled America in the early 2000s. Sometimes beautiful, sometimes horrific, always challenging and inaccessible, it’s a record that requires repeat listens. Some songs allow their thematic value to float readily to the surface like dead fish (see “War On War” and “Ashes of American Flags”), while others find post- 9/11 beauty in simple subtleties.
The unabashed highlight — the orchestral roadhouse waltz of “Jesus, Etc.” — can send chills down your spine with its chorus: “Tall buildings shake/Voices escape singing sad, sad songs.” And while much of the record was put to tape before that morning in September, its release some seven months later felt inexplicably connected to what it meant to be a young American in April 2002.
*Excerpt from commemorative section “9/11 + 10: Art From The Ashes”