Decade :: Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)


This is it—the final entry in our Decade series. Since the beginning of October we’ve been highlighting albums released over the past ten years that made an impression—that made a difference. While we could not possibly feature all of our favorites, we did get through a good amount before the clock ran out and 2009 gave way to the new decade. It’s been an incredibly eye-opening experience revisiting these titles, some of which we hadn’t listened to intently in years. Time and again, more often than not, the passage of time has only given way to an added gravitas to the works; something I was curious about before we began (i.e. would the albums now feel dated, uneven, faddish, etc). Its been enlightening and a hell of a lot of fun; as always thanks for all the great discussion in the comments.

There could be no more obvious a choice for AD’s album of the decade than the record I in part lifted this blog’s name: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. This is without a doubt Wilco’s masterpiece. In terms of their creative trajectory it was Wilco’s game changer, and thus it changed the game for the decade itself. Its fingerprints and influence can be found all over the albums and artists that lie in its wake.

Completed in 2001, and finally released in 2002, after a much publicized ordeal with their former label, YHF has reached (with the help of a documentary, a book, and countless articles) near mythic proportions in rock lore in terms of the aftermath surrounding its creation. A great story to be sure, but one that has little to do with the contents found within the album’s 52 minute, eleven song, frame.

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is the story of a band in flux—creatively, lyrically, and interpersonally. Song structures were being torn apart, rebuilt and torn apart again; the lyrics were moving away from that of the previous three LPs and very members within the band were being replaced and added to. From a sheer transformative viewpoint the growth exhibited between A.M., their rural-leaning 1995 debut, and YHF is nothing short of remarkable. In six short years Jeff Tweedy, with the help of Jay Bennett and co., had steered Wilco from point A to Z all the while bypassing the majority of the remaining the alphabet.

Over the course of the past three months we’ve talked a lot about the tendency of truly great works of art to only slowly reveal themselves after a period of time. YHF is no exception, yet unlike some of the other Decade choices, it also rewards upon the very first listen. Not unlike, say, Pet Sounds, YHF is a layered and textured sonic milestone without sacrificing the hooks—the accessibility. It is underneath this, the easy familiarity, that lies an endless amount of terrain to explore. It is this that makes Yankee Hotel Foxtrot their masterpiece; it is this that makes it our favorite album of the past ten years.

16 thoughts on “Decade :: Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)

  1. Yes! This album is amazing and such a special listening experience for me. For my money, YHF, Radiohead’s Kid A and The Strokes Is This It stand head and shoulders above the fray as the best rock albums of the decade.

  2. You guys must be exhausted!What an excellent series though. Pointless to discuss what should have been and wasn’t. Would be ncie to see just the final list, though. I was starting to get nervous that Wilco was not going to make it!

  3. “This is without a doubt Wilco’s masterpiece.” I know I’m not alone in disliking this record. Being There was my favorite album of all time (until The Wrens Meadowlands came bee bopping along) and YHF bored me to tears. I know I’m “missing the intricate layering and incredible production” but I couldn’t care less. YHF will always be a major dissapointment for me. For what it’s worth Tweedy and gang released Being There as a full double disc. Wouldn’t you release your pride and joy as a double and not a single?

  4. YES! Was my album of the decade (joint first with Super Furry Animals ‘Rings Around The World’) They both satisfy my pop and noise needs in one hit!

  5. I always thought the Wilco trifecta was “Summerteeth,” “YHF” and “A Ghost Is Born.” Their “period” or whatever. I’d almost agree that YHF seems to be Wilco’s most disliked record, but it is also and without equal the most (1) popularly enjoyed and (2) critically lauded record in the Wilco catalogue. Funny how that relationship always works–the biggest receive the most dissent.

    As for the format in which a record is released, that really just depends on what a band has at the time of production, or how they feel about delivering. I mean, couldn’t they conceivably have 11 great songs for one record, and 19 or 20 pretty good songs for a double? Otherwise, I suppose Wilco believe everything they’ve done since “Being There” is automatically worse since they only bothered with one disc each outing. Striving for mediocrity: Wilco’s defining quality.

  6. I totally agree with YHF being the best album of the decade. Unfortunately, this decade was defined by fads in music (emo, dubstep, freak folk, blah blah blah) , perhaps more than any other. But YHF is truly a work of art and will stand the test of time better than any other record of the ’00s. Our kids will give YHF the same respect we give Pet Sounds.

    BTW, the double album comment is ridiculous.

    Congrats, AQ. This months-long retrospective for the decade was easily the best I read. And goddamn there were a ton of em.

  7. I’ve been wondering where Wilco has been in a lot of these lists. I knew the Drunkard wouldn’t let me down. Especially with the name, which first intrigued me to read. Add the doc. and book (with awesome cd!!! Glenn is god!!), Ghost, Kicking Television, Sky Blue Sky, Tweedy solo tour/dvd, The Album, and Ashes DVD, and Wilco easily owned this decade. Or just look at all of the bands copying their sound. They’re posted all over this blog!!!!!!!!

  8. I just caught the tail end of the series, and I am looking forward to going back and reading the previous entries. I appreciate the depth of the reviews. I am especially happy to see you end your series with YHF. Believe it or not, I have been living under a rock and only recently started appreciating this wonderful group. YHF was the disc that started my obsession.

  9. amazing decade series! loved the extensive reviews and really enjoyed going back and listening to the albums i hadn’t heard in a while with your thoughtful comments about the music.

    i’m a new reader to your blog, sent here from Sirius XMU and i adore it!
    thanks for being so great!

  10. Wilco is and has been my favorite band since Summerteeth. Cool to see them..So Hey what newer bands do you guys think have been influenced by them? Really I only listen to my XMRadio where I surf.. (Reggae and Dead show the most), Wilco, Dylan and My Morning Jacket are the only full albumbs I think I have bought over the last few years. Oh and the Tom Petty live set!

  11. Without a single doubt in my mind, YHF is the most important/best/most-listened-to album of the decade for me.

    Though I agree it’s a transitional work, what Wilco album has not been transitional? In contrast to Being There, it seems more coherent and better put together. Some of the songs on Summerteeth match YHF for their sonic complexity and emotional heft, but that album as a whole seems too much like an idea than a coherent collection of songs. YHF too is conceptual, but it is polished and complete. Not a second of the album sounds out of place.

    Since then, Wilco has continued to make great songs and decent albums, but YHF alone has the internal coherence and aesthetic brilliance that demands a complete listen-through, every time. The three subsequent studio albums are all great, and I think I would give a slot in my top ten to A Ghost Is Born and Sky Blue Sky (as one album).

    As for my other favorite records of the decade, I am torn. The Mountain Goats deserve another double entry, maybe two: The Sunset Tree and We Shall All Be Healed, I think, tied for second, right after YHF.

    I have listened to a lot of Red House Painters and Sun Kil Moon this decade, but I am not sure which of Old Ramon, Ghosts on the Great Highway, or April deserve places in my top ten.

    Other artists I admire, such as REM and Indigo Girls and Tom Waits and Tori Amos and Beck, have gone the decade without producing a great album as such. I am tempted to put Elvis Costello’s “Secret, Profane and Sugarcane” on the list, but I feel it needs a couple more years of listening. “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” definitely gets a place on my list, if only for its role in opening up a bigger audience for T-Bone Burnett’s version of Americana. I think I have to have a Dylan record on my list; would Tell Tale Signs count, even though it’s outtakes from the 90s and 00s?

    I would retain a few slots on the list for albums I think of as new or typical of the decade: Sufjan Stevens’ Illinoise, Arcade Fire’s Funeral, Antony and the Johnsons, Cold War Kids’ Robbers and Cowards, Vampire Weekend, Gillian Welch’s Time (The Revelator).

    Other artists that definitely count for something but didn’t have the perfect album include Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Bowerbirds, Salt & Samovar, and Bright Eyes, White Stripes, Jenny Lewis.

    What surprises me most though is how much music from the 1990s still fills up my daily listening. Maybe I’ll be able to pick my true aughts top ten in 2020. If nothing else, thank you for making my listening last decade (and hopefully next) much more interesting.

  12. It’s my “album of the decade.” As a fellow musician…I was amazed at what they were able to accomplish here. For all of the experimentation….the album succeeds where most ambitious albums fail….the songwriting is just off the charts good.

    If you can play a song on an acoustic guitar, alone, and sing it…stripping it down to its essence, and it’s still great, then you have a great song. Every song on Foxtrot achieves this, in my opinion. Everything I strive to be as a musician is contained in this record, and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear the traditional-instrument-playing- artists of the next decade reference this as an influence.

    Few things make me happier than Pot Kettle Black.

  13. Perfect choice. What an amazing record. Loved your analysis. So fitting for your blog to get its name from one of these great Wilco songs — a great blog.

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