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Instant Expert: Wilco

Bernd Muller, Redferns
You’ve seen them at parties, lurking in the corner, waiting to engage in battle disguised as conversation. They’re indie rock know-it-alls, and no matter what band or musician you mention, they’ve got an opinion — strong and almost certainly negative — ready to ram down your throat. With our new feature Instant Expert, we offer preparation for these very situations. Each Thursday, in advance of your weekend carousing, we pick an artist and provide a quickie career overview, highlighting both prevailing critical opinions and the inevitable contrarian counterarguments. Even if you’re completely unfamiliar with the music, you’ll be able to bluff your way through and defend your indie cred. First up: Wilco.


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The Gist

 
 

Formed in Chicago in 1994, Wilco are one of two bands — Son Volt being the other — spawned from the seminal alt-country outfit Uncle Tupelo. Over the course of eight studio albums, the group has transcended genre classifications and emerged as one of America’s most popular and well-respected indie bands. Much of this due to the songwriting talents of frontman and mastermind Jeff Tweedy, a hero to bearded, Western-shirt-wearing, shot-and-a-beer-drinking urban rustics everywhere. On the alt-rock Mt. Rushmore, Tweedy’s up there with Alex Chilton, Michael Stipe and Paul Westerberg.

 
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Critical Consensus

 
 

Wilco’s first three albums — ‘A.M.,’ ‘Being There’ and ‘Summerteeth’ — are fine and good, but it wasn’t until 2002′s ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’ that the band moved beyond smart, melodic, country-inflected rock and made their Grand Artistic Statement. Experimental yet heartfelt and accessible, ‘Yankee’ captured the tenor of the post-9/11 era, even though songs like ‘Ashes of American Flags’ and ‘Jesus, Etc.’ were written prior to the attacks. The follow-up, 2004′s ‘A Ghost Is Born,’ is perhaps artsier and nearly as essential, and while Tweedy has played it relatively safe ever since, at times veering into “dad rock,” Wilco remain consistent but never predictable, as close to a sure thing as you’re liable to find.

 
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Contrarian Counterargument

 
 

‘Yankee’ is way overrated. ‘Summerteeth’ is where it’s at. Tweedy’s never been better than he is on ‘When You Wake Up Feeling Old.’

 
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Counter-counterargument

 
 

‘Yankee’ is way overrated. ‘The Whole Love’ (2011) is their secret masterpiece. These guys weren’t s— until [guitarist] Nels Cline joined.

 
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Whatever You Do, Don’t Say This

 
 

‘Yankee’ rules. They’re the American Radiohead.

 

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