Music

The 10 Best Wilco Songs of All Time

With the upcoming September 27th release of Wilco's The Whole Love, the band’s eighth studio record, it's worth going back and revisiting the group’s impressive discography.


Wilco

The Whole Love

Label: dBpm
US Release Date: 2011-09-27
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Wilco, perhaps more than any alternative rock band of the past couple years, has taken its listeners on a wild, unexpected journey through a confluence of diverse musical styles. From its earliest days as an offshoot of alt-country pioneers Uncle Tupelo, to its dabbling with influences from noise rock, Krautrock, orchestra pop, and experimental jazz, to the folksy, simple songs from more recent albums earning the group the derogatory label “daddy rock”, Jeff Tweedy and company are always full of surprises. The band’s lineup has changed frequently and reveals a group constantly pushing itself into uncharted musical territory.

The journey began with A.M., the band’s 1995 debut record, which retained much of the group'’s alt-country roots. With Being There (1996), Wilco’s experimental side was already showing on such tracks as “Misunderstood” and “Sunken Treasure”, though classic rock and roots music were still obvious influences. On Summerteeth (1999) the group expanded its sound exponentially. It was clear that the band members, especially guitarist/keyboardist Jay Bennett, had fallen under the spell of Brian Wilson-style orchestral pop. String sections, unconventional percussion, and complex keyboard songs peppered this collection of pop songs.

With 2002's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Wilco went from being a solid, much admired alternative band to a musical and artistic institution. Critics recognized Yankee as not just an innovative musical effort, but one that was inflected with cultural significance. Jeff Tweedy's unique songwriting voice came to the fore, with some venerating him on the level of Bob Dylan and Neil Young. While Yankee had its unconventional moments, A Ghost Is Born (2004) represents the band's most all-out experimental effort. Tracks like "At Least That's What You Said" and "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" approach atonality, but the 15-minute "Less Than You Think" -- consisting of a short acoustic melody followed by several minutes of high-pitched, non-melodic sonic patterns -- tried the patience of even Wilco's most progressive fans.

On Sky Blue Sky (2007), though, Wilco went in the complete opposite direction. Gone were the non-tonal experiments, complex rhythms, and layers of challenging guitar parts. Instead, the band released an album of simple, piano-driven ballads and gentle, straight-ahead rock tunes. The group's seventh studio album, Wilco (The Album) (2009), represented a blended approach, with influences from each era of the band's development thrown into the melting pot.

With the upcoming September 27th release of the The Whole Love, the band's eighth studio record, it's worth going back and revisiting the group's impressive discography. As I compiled this list of the top ten Wilco songs, it became obvious to me that, unlike many artists, there are very few clear "singles" or "hits" to highlight. Because Wilco has never really been a "radio band", I simply tried to pick the ten songs that I feel the deepest connection with. Since Wilco is such a musically varied ensemble, everyone's experience of the group is likely to be different. While these ten songs represent a good starting point for the uninitiated, I would be remiss if I didn't recommend listening to the band's entire catalog as often as possible.

 
10. "Far, Far Away"
from Being There

Wilco is a quintessential Chicago band. In "Far, Far Away", one gets the feeling of riding the L train on a foggy autumn night. The gently lilting groove, folksy harmonica, and soulful pedal steel all add up to one of the band's most effective tunes about love, longing, and the emotional and physical distances that can plague even our most meaningful relationships. As it evokes feelings of alienation, "Far, Far Away" anticipates the themes and melancholy moods of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. At the same time, though, it reflects the band's alt-country roots. The honesty of the lyrics and the emotional expression of Tweedy's voice leads to one of the simplest, yet warmly effective, tracks in the band's varied catalog.

 
9. "Spiders (Kidsmoke)"
from A Ghost Is Born

It's hard to believe that "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" was recorded by the same band that gave us "Far, Far Away". The directly emotional lyrics ("I need to see you tonight") are replaced by surrealistic, symbol-laden lines ("This recent rash of kidsmoke / All these telescopic poems / It's good to be alone"). The country-inflected rhythms and sparse instrumentation are replaced with walls of free jazz-influenced guitar noise and Krautrock-inspired grooves. One of the most divisive tracks on A Ghost is Born, "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" represents what many find so simultaneously fascinating and frustrating about the group. If you're willing to take the journey, though, Tweedy and company prove on this ten-minute track that their often derogatory label of "daddy rock" is far too limiting.

 
8. "Poor Places"
from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

"Poor Places" is notorious for its inclusion of samples from The Conet Project, recordings of number stations that were odd shortwave radio signals of undetectable origins. The use of the phrase "Yankee, Hotel, Foxtrot" from the number stations on the album's penultimate song emphasizes the feeling of emotional alienation expressed on the entire record. "Poor Places" explores the ways in which, even in a world as "connected" as our own via technology and mass transportation, we can feel remarkably disconnected from one another. The speaker suggests that he only finds himself caring about what is happening immediately around him ("It makes no difference to me / How they cried all over overseas / If it's hot in the poor places tonight / I'm not going outside"). The presence of a line as concrete as "I really want to see you tonight" amongst a sea of semi-abstract lyrics suggests the optimistic belief that love can overcome the danger of growing apart in our complex world.

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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