Sunday, March 02, 2008

Outta Mind (Outta Sight) John's Best of Wilco

So a friend asked me today to compile suggestions of Wilco songs she should check out, as she's pretty sure she would like the band but has never really paid much attention to them. As I sat at home flipping through my Wilco collection I thought it might be fun to post the results of this project (look out for a Radiohead follow-up shortly). Here's what I came up with, tracks accompanied by liner notes.

As I start, here are a few notes of introduction:

I discovered Wilco when I was in high school and when I was in the habit of trolling through the bargain bins at used CD stores. In high school I got big into music but wasn't always sure how to explore new stuff, so I figured if I could find bands I had heard of for $5 a disk I was making a pretty good bet. This worked out sometimes and not so much others. This habit of mine would later morph into my college radio show, where I basically used having a show as an excuse to spend hours in the station listening to new CDs, searching for sounds I liked. Wilco was one band I found in the Used CD bin at a local corporate mall music mart, the (now defunct) Wall, I believe. Hence, I may have paid $7.99 for AM and Being There, both of which I think I purchased in my junior or senior year of high school.

At the time I wasn't listening to almost anything that sounded quite like Wilco. Sure, they're pretty poppy, but I mostly listened to straight up rock/pop with a slight punk/alternative bent to what I liked (Weezer, Ben Folds, Beck, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, etc.). I almost immediately loved Wilco's sound. Being there was at times harder to get into, but AM was straight ahead, clever, easy to listen to and fun. Over time, as my tastes have trended more towards slightly experimental pop/indie rock mixed with all sorts of other randomness I've often felt pleased that Wilco's sound seemed to be growing and developing as my ears were. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, for example, is an album I continue to enjoy more and more over time.

This is all to say that one potentially remarkable absence you'll note in my list below is Wilco's latest CD, Sky Blue Sky. I've had that album for a few months now and am just not as excited about it... so I left it off.

UPDATE: I was on hold today, and they were playing "Impossible Germany" from Sky Blue Sky... which illustrates the problem I have with the album... it's too hold-musicy for me.

Ok... that's way too much intro. So here's the list:

Outta Mind (Outta Sight) John's Best of Wilco:

From AM (1995):
1. I Must Be High
2. Casino Queen
3. Box Full of Letters
4. Passenger Side

Quick note on AM: when I've read about AM there are often comparisons to Uncle Tupelo that describe this album as very similar to their sound. For folks who don't know, Uncle Tupelo was Wilco + Jay Farrar, a pretty successful alt-country lineup in their own right at a time when the idea of alt-country wasn't really much of an idea. Anyway, in the mid-nineties Uncle Tupelo broke up, and Jeff Tweedy formed Wilco with basically himself singing and the rest of the band sticking aroudn, Jay Farrar went off and formed Son Volt, another pretty successful alt-country act. I mention all of this, because I would suggest that if you go back and listen AM does offer quite a departure from Uncle Tuplo in the following way: I think Jay Farrar had a much more pastoral and meandering quality to his song writing, which you can see in his work since the Tupelo split. Wilco, on the other hand, from the get go has been a looser, perhaps drunker, but certainly more freewheeling enterprise, and I think AM and Being There each present interesting early signs of this. Whether through the stomp of Casino Queen or the Bluesy jam band freakout that ends Dreamer In My Dreams (on Being There Disc 2)... there's something a bit more unhinged here, some degree of controlled chaos that makes Wilco interesting and fun.

From Being There (1996)
5. Monday
6. Forget the Flowers
7. Outta Mind (Outta Sight)
8. Dreamer In My Dreams

From Mermaid Avenue (1998) with Billy Bragg & Wilco
9. Christ For President

The work that Billy Bragg and Wilco did on the two discs of Mermaid Avenue material is incredible. On these albums they breathe life into a series of unrecorded Woody Guthrie tunes that Bragg had been given from Guthrie's estate/vault. Christ For President is one fun track, but there are many other great songs to be found here, some haunting, others hilarious, and many many just plain excellent.

From Summerteeth (1999)
10. Can't Stand It
11. A Shot In The Arm
12. Nothing'severgonnastandinmyway (Again)
13. Summer Teeth

From Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)
14. I'm The Man Who Loves You
15. Kamera
16. Jesus, Etc.
17. Heavy Metal Drummer

From A Ghost Is Born (2004)
18. Hell Is Chrome
19. Theologians

From Kicking Television: Live In Chicago (2005)
20. The Late Greats
21. Hummingbird
22. Airline to Heaven

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