When I first heard Wilco, I was a Junior in high school. On the way to run in a league cross country meet, a teammate gave me a copy of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot to listen to on the bus ride, with this caveat: "you'll enjoy it more if you close your eyes while you listen." I heeded the sage advice, and was transported to another, more calm world by Jeff Tweedy's soothing vocals and the band's driving and introspective instrumentation. I was transfixed. Here we are, nearly 15 years later, and Wilco is as strong as ever on Schmilco. The formula hasn't changed a whole lot, and that's certainly not a bad thing as the formula has become more refined and perfected. Tweedy's voice is as mellifluous as ever, and the guitar work is perhaps even more subtle. "Normal American Kids", for example, is a simple guitar melody with Tweedy almost uncannily turning the clock back to where I was in life the first time I heard them, "I remind myself of myself long ago 'Fore I could drive, 'fore I could vote All of the time, holding a grudge 'Fore I knew people could die just because" "If Ever I Was a Child" and "Cry All Day" are perhaps the most radio ready tracks, and they'd fit perfectly on a nighttime drive or a Summer road trip. Later on the album, "Someone to Lose" and reminds me of just how poetic Tweedy's lyrics are, and how bittersweet. Perhaps the best example is from "Happiness" where he sings, "So sad it's nothing Happiness depends on who you blame" "Locator" builds to a huge crescendo, setting up the final tracks of the 36 minute, 12 track album before the perfectly bookended "Just Say Goodbye" drifts away, the last chord striking a sense of cautious optimism and nostalgia no longer viewed through rose colored glasses. As the Summer turns to Fall, and rain takes hold in the Northwest for a good 6 months, I know I'll be firing up the album repeatedly when I go for my runs in the trails. Though time has moved on, and I'm a shell of the runner who first heard Yankee Hotel Foxtrot those years ago, it's reassuring to know some things don't change: Wilco is just as strong as they've ever been.
Words by Alexander Hallett
Photos by Adam Richert