Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
|Yankee Hotel Foxtrot|
|Studio album by Wilco|
|Released||April 23, 2002|
|Recorded||Late 2000 – Early 2001, Chicago (The Loft)|
|Genre||Indie rock, alternative rock|
|Singles from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot|
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is the fourth album by Chicago-based rock band Wilco. The album was completed in 2001, but Reprise Records, a Warner Music Group label, refused to release it. Wilco acquired the rights to the album when they subsequently left the label. In September 2001, Wilco streamed the entire album for free on their website. Wilco signed with Nonesuch Records (another Warner label) in November of that year, and the album was officially released on April 23, 2002.
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was a critical and commercial success, and is their best selling album, with over 500,000 copies sold in the U.S. and topping the Pazz and Jop critics' poll for 2002. The album reached number 13 on the Billboard top 200 chart. Critical success ensued, and the album was widely listed among the greatest albums of the 2000s in many popular publications, including 3rd place in Rolling Stone's 100 Best Albums of the 2000s. It was Wilco's first album with drummer Glenn Kotche, and the last with multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Jay Bennett.
Wilco was touring to promote Mermaid Avenue Vol. II in May 2000 when Jeff Tweedy was invited to play at the Noise Pop festival in Chicago. The festival promoter offered to pair Tweedy with a collaborator of his choosing, and Tweedy decided to perform with Jim O'Rourke. Tweedy frequently played O'Rourke's album Bad Timing in his car while he traveled during the previous winter. O'Rourke was an accomplished producer as well as a musician, and had produced over 200 albums by the time that Tweedy requested the collaboration. O'Rourke offered the services of drummer Glenn Kotche, and the trio performed at Double Door for the festival on May 14, 2000. Tweedy enjoyed the performance so much that he suggested that the trio record an album together. They chose the name Loose Fur, and recorded six songs during the following summer.
By the end of the year, Wilco had recorded enough demo tracks to release a fourth studio album (the working title was Here Comes Everybody), but the band was unhappy with some of the takes of the songs. This was attributed to the inflexibility of Ken Coomer's drumming. According to American Songwriter Magazine, "Virtually every attempt the singer made to steer Coomer toward the percussive sound he had envisioned for the record sparked a fight." The band decided to bring Glenn Kotche into the studio to record with the band. Wilco officially replaced Coomer with Kotche in January 2001, a decision originally proposed by Tweedy and almost immediately approved by the rest of the band.
Jay Bennett recorded the entire album with Chris Brickley, and agreed with Tweedy that O'Rourke would be a good choice to mix the album, after a failed attempt by Bennett and Brickley to mix a few of the songs at CRC and after hearing O'Rourke's "audition mix". One of the conflicts, exhibited in the film I Am Trying to Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco, was over the ten-second transition between "Ashes of American Flags" and "Heavy Metal Drummer". Bennett attempted to explain to Tweedy that there were several slightly different ways to approach the transition, each of which would yield slightly different results, but Tweedy explained that he just wanted the problem fixed, and was not concerned with understanding the different approaches. Bennett focused on the individual songs, while Tweedy focused on larger conceptual and thematic issues—a tried and true division of labor that had worked well on the four releases on which they co-wrote the material. In order to achieve the band's musical goals, Tweedy invited Jim O'Rourke into the studio to mix "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" ( sample (help·info)), and the results impressed the band members. O'Rourke was then asked to mix the rest of the album.
The cover of the album is a picture of Marina City in the band's adopted hometown of Chicago. The album was named after a series of letters in the phonetic alphabet that Tweedy had heard on the Irdial box set The Conet Project: Recordings of Shortwave Numbers Stations. On the fourth track of the album Phonetic Alphabet - Nato (help·info), a woman repeats the words "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" numerous times; a clip from this Numbers Station transmission was placed in the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot song "Poor Places". Irdial sued Wilco for copyright infringement, and a settlement was reached out of court.
After the album's completion, Tweedy decided to remove Bennett from the band. The album was completed in 2001, and Tweedy believed it to be ready for release.
I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
Los Angeles photographer Sam Jones contacted Wilco in 2000 about producing a documentary film about the creation of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Jones shot over 80 hours of footage for I Am Trying to Break Your Heart (named after the opening song of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot) beginning on the day that Coomer was dismissed from the band. The footage was edited down to 92 minutes, and the film was released to theaters in 2002. The documentary has received generally positive reviews.
Dismissal from Reprise Records
In 2001, AOL merged with Time Warner to form AOL Time Warner. Time Warner's market share of the music industry had dropped by almost five percent from the mid-1990s, and the new executives ordered the termination of 600 jobs. One of those jobs was Reprise Records president Howie Klein, who had been a big supporter of Wilco on the label. Klein's dismissal placed head A&R representative David Kahne in charge of the decision whether to release Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
Josh Grier, Wilco's lawyer, was able to negotiate a buy-out of the band from Reprise. The band would keep the rights to the album if they paid Reprise $50,000. Before Wilco could accept the deal, Reprise called the band and changed their offer to give the band the rights to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot for free. Despite Reprise's efforts to accommodate Wilco's departure, the process marred public relations after an article in the Chicago Tribune described what had happened.
Wilco had planned on releasing Yankee Hotel Foxtrot on September 11, 2001, but Tweedy did not want a change in record labels to significantly delay the release of the album. Within weeks of being released from the label and Jay Bennett leaving the band, MP3s of all tracks from the album began to appear on file sharing networks. In a decision aimed at discouraging the pirating of lower quality MP3s and having some control over how the album was distributed, on September 18, 2001, Wilco began streaming the entirety of the album on their official website. The wilcoworld.net website registered over 50,000 hits that day, eight times as much as typical daily traffic. Traffic to the website quadrupled the normal traffic over the next few months. The following tour was a success financially, and members of Wilco observed that fans sang along with unreleased songs from the album.
Release on Nonesuch Records
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Both independent and major record labels bid for the right to release Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, including Artemis Records and Nonesuch Records. Tweedy denied the bids of record labels that did not have a roster of signed artists that matched his liking. He also decided to ignore small independent companies because he wanted to be able to put the album out for a large audience and felt that they would be unable to produce more than 100,000 records. Wilco decided to sign with AOL Time Warner subsidiary Nonesuch Records in November 2001, basing the decision on the label's small size and artist-friendly atmosphere. In the end, Wilco recorded and produced Yankee Hotel Foxtrot with Reprise, received the rights to the album for free, and then sold it back to a different AOL Time Warner affiliate.
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was commercially released by Nonesuch Records on April 23, 2002. The album sold 55,573 copies during its first week of release, peaking on the Billboard 200 album chart at number 13. The album was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America and has sold over 590,000 units.
The More Like the Moon EP (also called Bridge and Australian EP) was originally released as a bonus disc to the Australian version of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. The EP comprised six songs that were recorded but not released during the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot sessions including a re-working of "Kamera". On the one-year anniversary of the release of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Wilco uploaded the EP onto their official website, and offered it for free to anyone who purchased the album. The band would later allow anyone to download the EP for free off the website, regardless of whether they had purchased the full-length album.
The album received widespread acclaim upon release, including positive reviews from media outlets such as Rolling Stone and BBC Music. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was voted as the best album of the year in The Village Voice Pazz & Jop critics poll. Brent Sirota of Pitchfork Media gave the album a perfect 10 rating, noting that the album was "simply a masterpiece." David Fricke of Rolling Stone praised its resemblance to psychedelia while Allmusic writer Zac Johnson lauded its musical complexity.
There are more favorable reviews: E! Online gave the album an A and said that its "rich, exotic flavor gets more intense the longer you chew on it." Stylus Magazine called it "a great album, and an outstanding place for prospective new Wilco fans to start." Neumu.net gave it nine stars out of ten and called it "a fierce record". Almost Cool gave it a score of 8.75 out of ten and said, "I'm not sure if it's the work by O'Rourke or the progression of the group (or a little of both), but this disc is so multi-layered that it's easy to hear new things many many times after the first listen." Billboard gave it a favorable review and called it "a more adventurous and rewarding release". The Austin Chronicle gave it four stars out of five and said that "After a while -- a familiarity period if you will -- it becomes clear that these songs are not only fully realized, they're damn near brilliant." Playlouder gave it four stars out of five and called it "The most worth-the-wait long-awaited album in the world... ever? Could be..." Uncut also gave the album four stars out of five and said, "The most common description of this much-discussed album over the past few months is that YHF is Americana's Kid A. In truth, it's more successful than that." Blender likewise gave it four stars out of five and stated: "Tweedy whittles down the arrangements and drops in enough experimental nuances to make the whole thing sound refreshingly lo-fi." Q likewise gave it four stars and called it "battered, bonkers and bewitching in equal parts" and that it "at last finds Wilco's 'interesting' phase become downright fascinating." Yahoo! Music UK gave it eight stars out of ten and said, "Tweedy takes conventional songforms birthed on his acoustic guitar and scrambles them completely, reassembled into fractured, dissonant epics with the help of the reliably brilliant Jim O'Rourke."
Trouser Press was one of the few major media outlets that did not give the album a good review, instead giving it an average review and stating that "more time spent in the songwriting lab might have yielded material more suitable to the evident studio effort invested and brought Wilco closer to making a truly great album." Robert Christgau gave the album a one-star honorable mention rating, stating that he found the lyrics and vocals in general to be boring.
Though Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was recorded before the September 11, 2001 attacks, critics perceived references in the album to the attacks. For example, Jeff Gordinier of Entertainment Weekly compared the two towers of Marina City to the World Trade Center towers. Also containing similar themes are the songs "War on War" and "Ashes of American Flags" which contains the line "I would like to salute the ashes of American flags." The song "Jesus, Etc." also contains these lyrics: "Tall buildings shake, Voices escape singing sad sad songs ...Voices whine, Skyscrapers are scraping together, your voice is smoking."
The album was voted as the 100th "Greatest Album Ever" in a 2006 Q Magazine poll. In 2008, Rolling Stone critic Tom Moon listed Yankee Hotel Foxtrot among the 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die.
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot found a place on many lists of the greatest albums of the 2000s. Rolling Stone ranked the album at number three on its list of the 100 Best Albums of the Decade. Pitchfork Media put the album at number four on the Top 200 Albums of the 2000s. The alternative music website also named "Poor Places" and "Jesus, Etc." as the 147th and 61st best songs of the decade, respectively. Paste named the album the second-best album of the decade.
All lyrics written by Jeff Tweedy; all music composed by Jeff Tweedy and Jay Bennett except where noted.
- "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" (Tweedy) – 6:57 Audio sample (help·info)
- "Kamera" – 3:29
- "Radio Cure" – 5:08
- "War on War" – 3:47
- "Jesus, Etc." – 3:50
- "Ashes of American Flags" – 4:43
- "Heavy Metal Drummer" (Tweedy) – 3:08
- "I'm the Man Who Loves You" – 3:55
- "Pot Kettle Black" – 4:00
- "Poor Places" – 5:15
- "Reservations" (Tweedy) – 7:22
Credits according to liner notes.
- Jeff Tweedy - vocals, acoustic and electric guitar, programming, harmonica
- Jay Bennett – programming, acoustic and electric guitar, piano, keyboards, synthesizers, organ, bass, drums, percussion, lap steel, glockenspiel, vibraphone, bells, vocals
- John Stirratt – bass, vocals
- Leroy Bach - piano, acoustic and electric guitar, organ, glockenspiel, vibraphone, bass, percussion, horns
- Glenn Kotche - drums, percussion, cimbalom, siren, chimes
- Horns and strings arranged by Jeff Tweedy and John Stirratt
- Ken Coomer - additional drums and percussion
- Fred Lonberg-Holm – cello
- Craig Christiansen - programming, keyboards, synthesizers, percussion, autoharp, harmonium
- Jessy Greene - violin, viola
- Steve Rookie – mastering
- Chris Brickley – engineering, mixing
- Jim O'Rourke – acoustic guitar, electric guitar, piano, keyboards, toy piano, stylophone, engineering, mixing
- Wilco – producer
- Sam Jones – photography
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