Tonality: "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" by Wilco
Few contemporary monuments could articulate the life of an American following the wake of 9/11 as well as Wilco’s fourth studio album “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.”
Embodying a collective theme, this album is as relevant to an aging veteran as it is to a coming-of-age student.
“Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” is perhaps among the greatest American albums to be released in the 21st century.
Jeff Tweedy’s songwriting has always been a refraction of Americana, with Dylan-esque lyricism and contemporary folk instrumentation. “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” is perhaps Tweedy’s magnum opus. Though it was written before 9/11, the 2002 album had unintended relevance following the attacks and the declared War on Terror.
The lyricism is the record’s main focus. Through a lens of resentment, longing and fear, Tweedy’s observations blend with free association. The lyrics embody the collective thoughts of a nation, condensing them into a 51-minute emotional, introspective journey. Tweedy’s weathered vocals bring to life the thoughts you had always had but never spoke.
The song “War on War” is rich in instrumentation: glockenspiel, strings, a Wurlitzer and even some looped Morse code running through Roland synthesizers. The album demands a variety of mood conversions, shifting from hopeless defeat on “Ashes of American Flags” to the joyous optimism of “Heavy Metal Drummer” and lighthearted “I’m the Man Who Loves You.”
The listener experiences the purest joys next to the deepest despairs, much like reading high school journal entries back to back or fast forwarding through a movie. The record is deeply humanizing, affirming an ode to the joy of youth and the longing to find it again.
As Tweedy salute “the ashes of American flags,” a tear may drip down your face. By the time he laments the innocence of “playing Kiss covers, beautiful and stoned,” that tear will have made it to your mouth, which is now stretched across your face. Through wavy radio static, Tweedy examines the collective struggle to communicate with friends, his lovers and himself.
Perhaps one of the greatest artistic achievements of our time, “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” depicts a will to love, but lacking the required strength to surface. The album surpasses review, belonging instead to each and every soul who listens to it. In a world of superficiality and distractions, you can count on this album to always tell the truth—that no, it’s not okay.