Fade In Playlist: Wilco

With the surprise release of their ninth album, the lawsuit-nudgingly titled “Star Wars,” Wilco have entered another new chapter in their career. Most bands won’t have as many phases as this over only nine albums, but most bands aren’t Wilco. From Texas blend alt-country, to Chicago migraine-imitating noise rock, to a restless feeling of “dad” music, Wilco have managed to separate and reflect on their influences individually, based on the times. And with no bad albums under their belt, there’s a lot of ground to cover if you’re just getting into them. So I’m here to help – below is a Spotify playlist of 10 Wilco songs to get you started. Because picking 10 good Wilco songs could basically be done by just throwing 10 darts at a list of their music, I’ve limited my personal picks and leaned heavily on what I feel are their objective best works.

Since I jump around in their discography, here is a list of their albums chronologically:

“A.M.” – 1995
“Being There” – 1996
“Summerteeth” – 1999
“Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” – 2002
“A Ghost is Born” – 2004
“Sky Blue Sky” – 2007
“Wilco (the Album)” – 2009
“The Whole Love” – 2011
“Star Wars” – 2015

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1) “Misunderstood”

One of the earliest great Wilco songs, “Misunderstood” shows the band already tempting their audience with an avant-garde sound. 1996’s “Being There” was the band’s second album, and one that established them as an alt-country group worth watching. But the leadoff track has a heavy, restless guitar line amidst its piano and country rhythms. It was a sign of what was to come, and is still a live staple to this day.

2) “Wilco (the Song)”

2008’s “Wilco (the Album)” saw the band poking fun at their diverse discography by embracing all of it at once. A weaker release in their discography, but still a fun insight into a band looking back at themselves. Another leadoff track, “Wilco (the Song)” is a quick, catchy guitar ditty reminiscent of their “Summerteeth” era transitional period. Though simplistic, it’s both indicitave of the band’s power on the indie front, and a song that never gets old.

3) “Impossible Germany”

Definitely one of Wilco’s best songs is a showcase for Nels Cline. In between “A Ghost is Born” and 2007’s “Sky Blue Sky,” Wilco drafted legendary jazz and noise rock guitarist Nels Cline and let him show off here. The song follows a “Marquee Moon” trajectory – a song they’ve covered live – by starting as a standard rock song, with cryptic lyrics, before devolving into a very lengthy guitar solo. And just like the Television song, the best part of the solo is when the rhythm guitar line develops on it’s own. And despite it all, “Impossible Germany” manages to have a relaxed, calming tone to it. A modern guitar odyssey.

4) “I’m the Man Who Loves You”

The legend of Wilco’s utter struggle and total redemption recording 2002’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” has been extremely well-documented, so here’s just a quick rundown – band members came to blows over the album’s significantly more noisy, abrasive and unpredictable sound, and from the time recording started to the album’s release, two members were replaced. Meanwhile, Reprise Records rejected the album, as even Wilco’s more radio-friendly work wasn’t selling. They asked for the rights to their music back, which Reprise gave for free. Wilco then sold the album to Nonesuch Records – another Warner Bros. subsidiary, who released it. The album, which was originally slated for release on 9/11, eventually came out on 4/23/2002, with the band touring with a different line-up than on the album. But it has gone on to become Wilco’s most successful album, and a certifiable indie classic. Picking just two songs from the album for this list is nearly impossible, but this song is both the album’s most abrasive and catchiest song, an example of how well they’ve become at blending the two.

5) “Where Do I Begin”

Over a decade after “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,” we’ve got Wilco feeling restless again. Their new album “Star Wars” is their first fun album in a long, long time, and shows the band refusing to mature and settle into a “dad-rock” sound that they’ve been on the fringe of. While the album is filled with guitar-heavy ditties, the best songs are ones like “Where Do I Begin,” which start like previous midtempo Wilco songs that give the aura of “Okay, they got that out of their system,” before suddenly switching gears. “Where Do I Begin” stops suddenly and lets a jazzy drum line come in and wrap up the song, all in under three minutes.

6) “Via Chicago” (Live Version)

Look, no band is perfect. No band knows this better than Wilco. Back before they had nine albums, Wilco once did a multi-show run in their now-hometown Chicago where they played every song in their discography over a few nights. There were some that Tweedy apologized for and complained about them being too boring. To me, “Via Chicago” is one of those – a centerpiece of “Summerteeth” that’s a dull ballad. But this live version from “Kicking Television” again highlights the way Wilco have an eye for warping and changing their music, by incorporating three sudden, sweaty noise build-ups amidst the original version. It’s a shock. Bonus: watch the video, where Tweedy calmly plays his acoustic guitar, totally ignoring the insanity around him.

7) “Walken”

“Walken” is a live staple for Wilco, even though audiences usually seem lukewarm to the band playing it. I don’t get it – it’s one of the most fun songs in the band’s discography. With semi-meta lyrics surrounding a country guitar line and jazzy drums, it’s an amalgum of Wilco’s interests. And, as a part of “Sky Blue Sky,” it’s Nels Cline-heavy. “Walken,” with no actual relation to the actor, is an upbeat track with a number of different things going on at once, and shows how well the band works together, especially with their current long-running line-up.

8) “Can’t Stand It”

The tribulations of “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” really started back with 1999’s “Summerteeth.” Warner Bros. had joined with Time and were in debt – the labels were pressured to find hit acts. Howard Klein – the man who kept convincing Reprise to stick with Wilco – made it his swan song to convince Reprise to do it yet again (something he couldn’t do with “Yankee,” as he was soon fired). Reprise told Wilco they needed a radio hit single, so the band agreed “once and only once” to rework one song, “Can’t Stand It,” into a poppy single. The reworked version, done in one day, leads off the album, but unfortunately still wasn’t enough – it failed to make airwaves and the album sold less copies than it’s predecessor, “Being There.”

9) “Company In My Back”

I’ll be upfront on this one – I’m not really a fan of Wilco’s fifth album, “A Ghost is Born.” Tweedy adapted even more of a lead role on the album, playing lead guitar for the first time in the band’s run. The album, the follow-up to “Yankee,” follows the unpredictable tone but is significantly darker, with Tweedy taking inspirations from his lifelong migraine problem, which had been getting even worse. Wilco’s most infamous song, “Less Than You Think,” is a 15-minute electro-drone song that is supposed to mimic a migraine (an interesting piece that’s extremely out of place on a Wilco album). Still, the album has some great tracks, like this surprisingly catchy low-key one. It’s a rare Wilco song that would fit on any album.

10) “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart”

One of Wilco’s most well-known songs, the opener to “Yankee” is an avant-garde opus, nearly seven minutes of nonsensical lyrics, drones, clock chimes and piano. Naturally, the meat of the song is still very catchy, but everything going on around it was nothing that Wilco fans had ever heard before. Any noise influence before “Yankee” – and most after – was crafted just with studio instruments. But this song pummels itself into outside noises. And tempo changes, and a reference to an upcoming song (“I’m the Man Who Loves You,” again). “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” must have been the underground version of Dylan going electric – an alt-country band going freak-out. The song may have been written from the depths of Tweedy’s opiate addiction, and while 75% of me is glad he kicked it years ago, 25% of me wants another “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.”

There’s really no saying where Wilco will go next, but given their track record, it’s likely to be something they haven’t done before – and it’s probably going to be great.

Previous playlists: Beck, Death Grips

By Andrew McNally, who has loved Wilco for many years but has sadly only seen them once.

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Fade In: Death Grips

Noise-rap group Death Grips doesn’t always have the same line-up. That’s probably an important thing to note. They usually consist of rapper MC Ride and drummer Zach Hill. Sometimes, keyboardist Andy Morin is considered a member. Sometimes, it’s a combination, or no one at all. The experimental duo/trio has made waves since their debut mixtape, “Ex-Military,” came out in 2011. Their albums have dabbled in noise, samples, politics, controversy, and all with unlimited energy. In honor of their new supposedly final double album, “the powers that b,” I’m offering the second Fade In Playlist. So for those of you who have heard the name Death Grips but have felt like it’s too late to jump into the game – don’t worry, I’m here to help. Below is a 10 song playlist with the duo’s well-known songs, most riotous acts, and a few deep cuts.

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1) “You Might Think He Loves You For Your Money But I Know What He Really Loves You For It’s Your Brand New Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat” Quite possibly the band’s loudest song, although you could make an argument for almost any other one too, the “Government Plates” opener with a Bob Dylan title serves as a proper introduction to the band. With the unsettling synth opener, to MC Ride’s inconsistent vocals, it’s a wild, drippy ride. Fourth album “Plates” suffered from MC Ride getting lost in the mix, and this song is no different, but the beat here is so head-numbing that it doesn’t even matter.

2) “I’ve Seen Footage” Arguably the band’s most famous song, “I’ve Seen Footage” is also one of their most straight-forward tracks. With a guitar line more typical of a punk song, Ride and Hill jump in for a song that’s more rock than anything. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t still volume-pushing. Their sophomore album, “The Money Store,” was the closest they’ve gotten to conventional music. And it wasn’t very close.

3) “Come Up and Get Me” For the band’s third album, “No Love Deep Web,” they returned to a darker sound, albeit a more minimalist one. The album is marked in history as the one with Zach Hill’s erect penis on the cover. You know, that one. Death Grips signed to a major label just to screw them over, accepting a bunch of money for this album and then releasing it early for free. Opener “Come Up and Get Me” is similar to the opener on “Plates,” with a synth beat that almost makes you lose control of your senses.

4) “Black Quarterback” The first half of their supposed final album, “the powers that b,” that officially came out last month, actually came out last June. Titled “n****s on the moon,” it suffered from over-production and music that was too choppy and dense. Bjork samples were on every song, to little effect. But one standout from this album is the only one that heavily features MC Ride. His lone vocals start the song, before getting quickly swept up in a wild mix.

5) “Guillotine” Death Grips first release was the 2011 mixtape “Ex-Military.” It still serves as the most well-rounded example of their music, and possibly their best work. Second track “Guillotine” was the song that put them on the map. It’s a rare Death Grips song that holds back; instead of an aural assault, it comes in metrical bursts. MC Ride’s vocals come in crescendo-ing screams. It’s one of their most playable songs, even if it’s still surprising after 100 listens.

6) “Birds” The closest thing the band has done to a ballad, in the sense that Los Angeles and New York are close relative to the size of the Earth. This “Plates” track starts with a jarring synth rhythm, but gives way to a quieter guitar. This album has been their most experimental to date – it isn’t always in your face, and “Birds” is the best example. It’s a more reserved sound, if not with streaking bits of avant-garde. There’s little rhythm, but it’s a break from the overbearing nature of everything that surrounds it.

7) “Get Got” The third of their more known songs, “Get Got” opened “The Money Store.” It’s a rapid-fire song that’s more melodic than most Grips works. In the years since it’s release, the song has grown tamer, but when the album came out, it was something revolutionary. It’s still a great song, and one of their easiest to throw on at any time.

8) “I Break Mirrors With My Face in the United States” Maybe the most apropos title for a Death Grips song yet, this song opens “jenny death,” disc two of their recent “the powers that b.” This disc is far superior to “ni**as on the moon,” and it shows early. The group works as a collective on the disc, and this track is pure riot. It’s speedy to a fault, with Ride leading the group through a storm with the repeated title phrase. Refreshing to see that they can still put out a track like this.

9) “No Love” “No Love Deep Web” was marked by a more minimalist sound, and on one of the two title tracks, it couldn’t be more apparent – a few times, the music totally gives way to MC Ride’s a capella vocals. And even when there’s music, it’s more subdued than other Death Grips albums. The group plays around with holding back, letting the music hit at certain times instead of full-on. While not my favorite of their albums, it might be the most important in their repertoire.

10) “Blood Creepin'” My personal favorite Death Grips song, this one is also in the running for loudest track. The closer to “Ex-Military” doesn’t hold back with volume. Hill and Morin are in full force themselves, until MC Ride comes in, scream-rapping with vocals that were recorded louder than the usual balance, and name-checking Sonic Youth. This band is almost always in assault mode, but never more than this track. I think it might be the most quintessential Death Grips song – loud, arsonistic, earache-inspiring, and inexplicably melodic.

There’s been bands like Death Grips before. But for what we have right now, they’re the most experimental and controversial performance art group out there. Run the Jewels might be putting out even better albums, but for better or worse, they’re not pulling off the stunts and pure volume that Death Grips are. Thanks for listening, or not, they wouldn’t care and I’ll pretend not to. Death Grips broke up last summer, and never reformed it, so take their current tour and continual album releases as you please. I’m sure “jenny death” isn’t the last we’ll see from them. But we’ve already got more than enough to get angry and punished.

-By Andrew McNally

Fade In: Beck

Beck just won the Grammy for Best Album, upsetting the shoo-in win for “Beyonce.” It’s led to some ‘controversy,’ Bey fans taking to Twitter to ask, “Who in the heck is Beck?” Well, I thought I’d use this opportunity to premiere a new feature of this blog: introductory playlists. It’s an idea I’ve been toying with for a little while, and this seems like the perfect time to start. Every so often, I’ll be publishing 5 or 10 song Spotify playlists with a range of songs from a certain artist. Big hits and deep cuts included, to give the best sense in a short time.

So who is Beck? Well, by this point everyone should know. He’s been releasing music since Beyonce was 12 years old. Though primarily a singer-guitarist, he often plays all the music on his albums, which can be anywhere from one to 15 instruments. His first and biggest hit came in 1994 with “Loser,” and two years later he released the seminal alternative album “Odelay.” His music has taken on a number of different personae. His early music is characterized by a huge blend of alternative, folk, psychedelia and often hip-hop influenced freestyled verses (Beck would record verses on a whim and promise to change them; he never did). A distinct change (no pun intended) came in 2002, when a break-up from a long-time relationship led to the somber, acoustic “Sea Change.” Since then, his music has taken more of an indie approach, regaining much of his early fun but sacrificing less structure. The album he just won a Grammy for, “Morning Phase,” is seen as a more optimistic sequel to “Sea Change,” and is a return to his soft, acoustic side. Want to talk about Beck but don’t know his music? No fear; here’s ten songs to start with.

1) “Loser” – His most well-known song, this song is marked by a depressing chorus, acoustic slide guitar mixed under freestyled, nonsensical lyrics and a vibe that no one else was doing in 1994. Coupled with Radiohead’s “Creep” and the Stone Temple Pilots’ “Creep,” it completes the trifecta of pure 90’s self-loathing.

2) “Nausea” – This 2006 single didn’t have a huge impact, but it’s one of Beck’s most fun songs off of one of his most underappreciated albums. It acts as a throwback to his earlier music – more defined, more practiced, but still acoustic madness that sounds unrehearsed.

3) “Blue Moon” – The lead single off his recent Grammy win, “Morning Phase,” “Blue Moon” is a gorgeous song, surprising by even the most somber of Beck standards. Featuring some beautifully poetic lyrics and a waking acoustic rhythm, it’s one of Beck’s best tracks, and one that showcases a very different side to his music.

4) “The New Pollution” – One of three big hits from his classic “Odelay” album, it’s typical Beck insanity. Catchy, and almost overstuffed with various instruments doing various things (including a nice saxophone bit).

5) “Think I’m in Love” – Another track from 2006’s “The Information,” “Think I’m in Love” is a more straight-forward indie song, an approach he took for the next few years. With an ever-repeating bassline, Beck sings optimistically about a new relationship. But – Beck fans know it’s only a few years removed from “Sea Change,” and it adds an unsettling nature to the song.

6) “E-Pro” – Maybe Beck’s loudest song, it was a roaring comeback in 2005. This is the first track on his “Guero” album, the first album he did after the soft and moody “Sea Change,” and Beck wastes no time announcing his return to his old self. With a beat sampled from the Beastie Boys’ “So What’cha Want,” an 8-bit music video and a heavy guitar line, it’s one of Beck most distinct tracks.

7) “Gamma Ray” – Beck’s 2008 “Modern Guilt” received decidedly mixed reviews, with some people saying he plays it a little too safe and structured. Agree or not, on “Gamma Ray” Beck shows he can pull that off, too. “Gamma Ray” acts as a somewhat direct indie song, and might not sound out of place on a Death Cab For Cutie or Modest Mouse album. It’s an unfortunately forgotten Beck release.

8) “Girl” – The other hit from “Guero” mixes acoustic guitar and game-y chiptune bits into just a simple, fun song. With all of the instruments Beck plays, it’s somehow one of his only songs to feature a solo, on acoustic guitar. Beck has always been one to have great choruses, but “Girl” is one of is most memorable.

9) “Wave” – Almost definitely the most unnerving Beck song, it’s the black sheep of his recent “Morning Phase.” Showing up directly in the middle of the album, it breaks the flow of light, cheery tunes with an utterly brooding lack of rhythm and emotion. It’s just Beck’s ghostly vocals and strings, with no chorus or discernible rhythm. It’s a haunting track and already one of the biggest standouts in his discography.

10) “Where It’s At” – Beck’s other big hit, this one doesn’t get quite the airplay “Loser” always has, but it’s close – and earned Beck his first Grammy. This is the key track from “Odelay,” and it’s crazy Beck at his finest. Every instrument imaginable shows up, it’s catchy but twisting, noisy, rapped, random, and druggy. It’s a little long, sure, but this is what you get when you give Beck two turntables and a microphone.

There you have it, ten Beck songs to introduce you to his music. This specific playlist leans more on hits, future ones will likely incorporate deeper cuts. Now you can properly debate whether or not Beck deserved to win the Best Album Award! (He didn’t, but I still love Beck).

-Andrew McNally