Alternative critical darlings Wilco have given their fans a gift recently. All those who purchased a copy of their CD Yankee Hotel Foxtrot were able to log on to the Wilco web site and download six songs that comprise a new EP. It has also been released in Australia as a bonus disc with YHF. If you don’t have internet access, or a CD burner, it’s pretty easy to find the Australian Import at finer independent record stores. Online, you are given the option of downloading individual tracks, or the EP as a whole, and are also given a choice between three cover designs, the Australian EP, the Bridge EP, and the More like the Moon EP.
If you haven’t bought a copy of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, one of the best albums of the last year (or for you downloaders, of 2001), you’ll have to go pick up the reasonably priced Australian Import with the six bonus tracks. (As of this printing, the MP3s might not be available for free on the website anymore anyway). Wilco’s albums have all brought a different and unique style, beginning with the alt-country rock of A.M., to the crowd pleaser heavy Being There (featuring three of their best, “Monday”, “Outtasite (Outta mind)”, & “Sunken Treasure”), then the catch-heavy and poppier summerteeth and finally the breakthrough genius of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Wilco should have shed the `alt-country’ label as early as their second album. They have been playing rock n’ roll tinged with folk if you must, a la Bob Dylan, but this is also true for bands that are usually compared to them such as The Minus 5, The Jayhawks, and The Old 97’s.
The availability of the new tracks coincides with the DVD release of I am trying to break your heart, the film by Sam Jones documenting the making of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot which includes, lucky Sam, the aftermath of the firing of drummer Ken Coomer, the subsequent hiring of Glenn Kotche (all off camera), the recording of YHF, the rejection of the album by Reprise, a large division of Warner Bros., the firing of Jay Bennett, and the eventual signing by Nonesuch, another smaller division of Warner Bros.
The DVD captures a lot of old Wilco songs that are fan favorites, early versions of songs that would eventually be included on YHF, and quite a few songs that were scrapped from the final track listing of the album or that were simply never recorded. One of the songs that featured prominently in the final cut of the film was “A Magazine called Sunset”, for which we hear both early and final versions. This is one of the songs that now appears on the free downloadable EP. Another track that I was pleased to see is one called “Bob Dylan’s 49th Beard”. Jeff Tweedy plays this song acoustic in the bonus film footage included with the DVD package.
The EP starts with “camera”, a heavier and fuzzier version of “kamera” from YHF. Fans will obviously begin to take sides on which version is better just as they take sides on a myriad of Wilco issues, such as which is their best album, which is the better lineup, and whether or not their songs on the Mermaid Avenue albums are better than the Billy Bragg songs. For all of these issues there should be no one single answer. Both versions of “c/k-amera” are catchy as hell and a tribute to their creativity. The second track is “Handshake Drugs”, a simple and rhythmic song with more of a storytelling aspect than some of their previous songs.
Next up is “Woodgrain”, a song that clocks in at less than two minutes. “Woodgrain” could have easily been a solo Tweedy song, introspective and sedate. The EP switches gears suddenly to the cha-cha intro to “A Magazine called Sunset.” This is easily the most upbeat and accessible track on the EP, and will certainly become a concert and fan favorite. “Sunset” could have fit well into the album summerteeth, and fans of Wilco’s experimental sounds will appreciate its electronic keyboard produced backup vocals. “Bob Dylan’s 49th Beard” is another short acoustic track that will be another for fans to burn onto their homemade Untitled Jeff Tweedy solo album. This song truly cements Tweedy’s status as folk auteur and puts him alongside Dylan himself, Woody Guthrie, Tim Buckley, Leonard Cohen, and Johnny Cash, but also alongside today’s sensitive singer / songwriters such as Elliott Smith.
The EP concludes with “More like the Moon”, a sleepy tune comprised of acoustic guitar, bass, metronome like drums, and occasional keyboard. The song has the feel of a modern day lullaby, much like summerteeth‘s “My Darling”, and will fill you with the memories of the last time you had your heart broken.
Sam Jones picked the perfect title for his documentary film, naming it after one of the standout tracks from YHF, “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart”. Ultimately, this is exactly what Jeff Tweedy has pulled off with a majority of the unreleased tracks that either appears on the EP or within the finished film plus bonus footage on the newly released DVD. Hopefully there will soon be a release that includes such songs on the DVD as Tweedy’s cover of “Be Not So Fearful”, a song he played at shows after September 11th, which proves of yet another way that Jeff Tweedy is trying to break our hearts.
Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
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