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

spotify:user:amcnal2:playlist:6dQXn36EAC4tODmGaJ6f7M

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.

The Boston Boys – “Idea of Love”

Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “Between You and Me” “Become Like One”

The Boston Boys, a folk-heavy roots band now decidedly living in Brooklyn, have always relied on their diverse sound as their strongest quality. I wrote about “Keep You Satisfied,” their last EP, that the guys were able blend folk, rock, country and americana elements into a sound that’s both predictably shiny and refreshingly original. “Idea of Love,” their third EP, keeps this blend just as strong.

The opening song, the aptly titled “The Beginning,” sets the mood for the EP. The band doesn’t start with a bang, instead opening with a slow and string-heavy track that’s more psychedelic than it is folk. It’s the EP’s most interesting song and, although it ultimately doesn’t really resemble the five songs that follow it, it does set the tone the band is looking for – there’s going to be a lot of little surprises. From there they jump into “Between You and Me,” a much more traditional country-folk song. It’s rhythmic, has a medium tempo and some pleasant vocal harmonies. It’s more what you’d expect from a band like the Boston Boys; it sounds conventional, but it doesn’t fit under the monikers of ‘folk’ or ‘country,’ instead landing in their own little niche in between.

“Times Like These” is more stripped-down, largely just vocals and guitar, a decidedly folksy move. And as soon as the mood calms for it, the more fun and drum-heavy “Become Like One” starts. The transition between these two songs works well, as they show the band at their calmest and highest points, respectively. “Become Like One” really is a fun track, breaking out of folk to incorporate some standard rock elements (that stay true through the next song, as well). Final track “You Don’t Need Me” is a slow, folk-rock type ballad, a solemn way to end the EP.

As with “Keep You Satisfied,” the band’s diversity in the music makes for a fun listen. The lyrics might sometimes get drowned out because of it, but their constant mixing of genres can make for a unique listen, and helps each song on the EP separate itself from the others. The band has a distinctly American sound, like their music should be played on a front porch in a small town on a warm summer day. They take the best parts of American genres – folk, country, bluegrass and americana – add a little rock from time to time, and produce a sound that’s both wholly original and lovingly American. It’s surely no surprise that the Boston Boys are named after an American city, because their music serves to optimistically celebrate a whole range of American heritages.

The EP is officially released on Tuesday, May 20th.

-By Andrew McNally

Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes – “Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes”

(Photo Credit: Consequence of Sound)

Grade: B-

Key Tracks: “Let’s Get High,” “Remember to Remember”

The first minute and a half of the song “If I Were Free” features two singers. The first singer has two brief moments of vocal impression – Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. The second singer, Ringo Starr ala “Yellow Submarine.” These vocal inflections are not meant to be intentional. The band is not trying to repeat the music done by those that inspire them. The vocal similarities to Dylan, Springsteen and Starr more seem to slip out, and that is what most of this album is. “Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes” feels like odes to those that came before, with it’s attempts at originality feeling somewhat mixed. Self-titled albums are meant to be declarations of the band’s distinct sound, but this album is ironically the least original of their three.

“Up From Below,” the debut from Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes, had a distinct country-folk sound that was trimmed perfectly for crossover radio. “Home” is a country song, completely, but found love on alternative radio (and in my head for a whole summer). Their follow-up, “Here” was an underrated gospel-based gem. This new, self-titled album doesn’t have as much of the mixing as it seems to think it has. It more resembles a Dylan album, when he was at his mid-60′s peak. Five studio musicians join the band’s eleven members on the album, but it feels like a one-person operation at times. Lengthy openers “Better Days” and “Let’s Get High” sound like a number of musicians gathered around one songwriter, following his or her lead, instead of a collective. “Let’s Get High” is a phenomenally energetic and great song, but one that doesn’t quite capture the feel of the band. Luckily, the album doesn’t continue this feel, as the songs get shorter and more voices are introduced. Lead singer Alex Ebert is given many lead moments (especially on “This Life”), but so is back-up singer Jade Castrinos, who gets to shine bright 0n “Remember to Remember.” Other singers are thrown into the mix, too, and frequently. Once the album gets past it’s inspired but dragging opening two tracks, it begins to feel like the huge collaborative effort it should.

“Two,” which is humorously the third song, is a beautiful duet between Ebert and Castrinos. “Life is Hard” and “If I Were Free” make the album’s middle a fun if agenda-less listen, bolstered by skilled songwriting. The pace drags towards the end. There are a number of slow songs that seemed to flow together, and lost my interest. The halted pace overstays it’s welcome, but at least it doesn’t finish out the album. The aforementioned “This Life” and “Remember to Remember” are not fast songs, but serve as powerful ending notes to the album. It is mixed, overall, and lacks the based-yet-blended originality that its predecessors had, but “Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes” is, at its core, an enjoyable folk collective, aiming high and hitting it more often than not.

If you like this, try: Phosphorescent’s criminally underrated folk-everything album “Muchacho” (2013)

-By Andrew McNally

John Fogerty – “Wrote a Song For Everyone”

(Photo credit: Consequence of Sound)

(Photo credit: Consequence of Sound)

Grade: A-

Key tracks: “Lodi,” “Who’ll Stop the Rain”

When a respected classic rock musician starts to get up there in years, they’re allowed to start having some fun in the studio. That’s exactly what Fogerty – famous most for Creedence Clearwater Revival, and some for his solo work – does on his ninth solo album. “Wrote” isn’t a duet album, it isn’t an original album, and it isn’t an album of covers, which many older singers resort to. Instead, it’s a healthy mix. A majority of the songs are reworkings of older songs of his, with guest stars. Fans of classic rock will instantly recognize CCR favorites like “Proud Mary,” “Who’ll Stop the Rain?” and “Fortunate Son” getting reworked, along many others. And to mix it up, Fogerty throws in a few original songs, just to prove that he hasn’t lost anything.

The guest stars on the album read like a planned tribute album, only the man being tributed showed up. Bob Seger and Alan Jackson, contemporaries of Fogerty, make two of the best appearances. Country singers like Keith Urban, Miranda Lambert and Brad Paisley contribute, as do current rock bands My Morning Jacket and Foo Fighters. The album’s most entertaining song, “Lodi,” features Shane and Tyler Fogerty, presumably his sons. The title track, though not one of the more memorable ones, features a unique pairing of Lambert’s vocals, and guitar work provided by Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine. Jennifer Hudson, known for her powerful voice, dominates “Proud Mary” at the album’s finale. “Proud Mary,” one of classic rock’s most famous songs, has been covered by Tina Turner in the past, and this likely serves as an homage to her equally powerful version.

This album gets a high rating simply because there is nothing wrong with it. Fogerty, now 68 (happy birthday!), recorded this just to have some fun. There is no purpose to this album other than to show that Fogerty still loves his material and loves to perform. Fogerty successfully brings the fun to the audience, making for a completely enjoyable listen that erases that wonder of why the album exists in the first place. I even looked past some guest stars I do not like (namely, Kid Rock and Bob Seger) and recognized the great reworkings of the songs. Fogerty’s voice, too, is still kicking. Tom Petty and David Bowie might be the last holdouts of classic rock still recording successful new material, but Fogerty sounds as good as he ever has, kicking back and having fun.