After the break-up of Uncle Tupedo in 1994 an alt-country band named Wilco was born. Their music, born from the ashes of one band, would rise to great heights in the days following the ashes that had littered New York after the falling twin towers. Even more, Wilco would be a premonition of what the future of music would sound like.
You might already know the story of how the album was reject by the big corporate honchos (Reprise records) and how wrong they were. As one subsidiary of Warner music records dropped them, another picked them up. They were, and have always been, an independent band with full creative control. In 2001 the record industry rejected them, only to have egg on their faces as the online digital release of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot received many accolades from critics. The move was lauded as ahead of its time and was trailblazing.
With the world going to shit, Wilco carried the depression of the zeros along with them in their music: incorporating themes of despair, loneliness, heart break, discordance – although not always dark in terms of the tunes, and sometimes showing us signs of hope mixed with passivity and immense beauty; they made music which reflected the surreality of the zeitgeist in which they lived. Contradictory to Tweedy’s anger and sadness are, at times, a frightened and shamefully nervous man who “shakes like a toothache” when he hears himself sing. It was this kind of honesty in lyrics, poetic and brutal on Foxtrot that made Wilco one of the best bands of the decade and captured the feeling of a country’s mental state during that dark period of time – just plain fucking nervous.
Although Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was produced a few months before September 11, 2001 it would be harbinger of music for the next decade: Lost, broken and like Tweedy said himself, in the Documentary I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, music that is “full of holes”.
There is a lot of tension in their music that is not just lyrical: We hear many times in Wilco songs the Americana, organic guitars fused, sometimes discordantly, with technology. Technology fades in and out of Wilco, and sometimes you hear nothing but a pure rock n’ roll band.
There most recent album The Whole Love is filled with bits of samples – songs like “Art of Almost”. And then there are songs that are just purely rock songs like “I might”.
Wilco has always been a band with two sides, two faces. One trying to lead the other. One side filled with the despair of logic, the other with the bliss of hope, and this is reflected in their style changes. It seems there are only so many platitudes that can explain the feeling, but you have to just listen to their newest release to hear the juxtapositions in their music.
The new album The Whole Love has some great uplifting songs, although it also encompasses all the negative qualities of love as songs like “Black Moon” are quite dark and reflect a balance approach to the topic of love. Where there is love there is heartbreak.
On this week of remembrance of 9/11: Remember the music that was born from that period of time, when we felt like holes were been torn through the fabric of society, our systems, and our beliefs, and think of Wilco artistically defined what that emptiness was, and grounded us in the comfort of music, even when “tall building’s shake”.
Wilco will be playing at the Metropolis (59 St. Catherine E) in Montreal on Sunday, September 19th. Tickets are 46$.