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11 Years Ago: Wilco’s ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’ Album Released

Wilco Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Nonesuch Records

Wilco’s fourth album, ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,’ wasn’t supposed to be a post-9/11 memoriam record. But it inadvertently turned into one thanks to a shortsighted record-company exec and a global tragedy. Wilco were all set to put out their followup to 1999’s orchestral-pop opus ‘Summerteeth’ before the tragic events that unfolded on Sept. 11, 2001, but someone charged with making such calls at their label didn’t hear a hit and rejected the album for release. Dejected, the band streamed the album for fans on their website and was soon looking for a new label to release the record.

On April 23, 2002, ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’ was issued by the band’s new record company, and by that time, the haunting elegiac tones that drift in and out of the album sounded damn near prescient. In the aftermath of 9/11, the mournful songs offered both comfort and release. But not hope. ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’ is a record of crushing hopelessness.

From the found sounds that rattle throughout the opening ‘I Am Trying to Break Your Heart’ to the jacked-up ‘War on War’ to the somber closer ‘Reservations,’ the album is all electronic whirs, buzzing guitars and ghostly atmospherics creeping through the record’s desolate corridors. Lyrically, the songs are pieced together randomly, falling into place like lost memories suddenly remembered. Musically, ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’ is even more fractured, assembled during the band’s breaking point, when frontman Jeff Tweedy began steering the project in a direction quite different from the alt-country twang found on the group’s 1995 debut.

‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,’ which celebrates its 11th anniversary today, became Wilco’s highest-charting album at the time, making it to No. 13. It’s their only gold record. Since then, Tweedy has shuffled personnel, tapped similar veins for subsequent records and turned Wilco into one of the ‘00s most significant bands. Their accidental post-9/11 rumination remains a landmark recording from the decade and Wilco’s masterpiece.

Listen to Wilco’s ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’

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