Yankee. Hotel. Foxtrot. Yankee. Hotel. Foxtrot. Yankee. Hotel. Foxtrot.
A very fascinating article in today's washingtonpost.com (August 3, 2004) on the origins of the haunting shortwave radio effects used on Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot album.
I found it quite amazing to learn that the shortwave radio effects used on the album are actual broadcasts of CIA and other intelligence agencies coded messages.
It's fascinating that the shortwave radio operator Akin Fernandez recorded these broadcasts for years without ever realizing what they were and that the "cryptic messages became music to his ears".
Fernandez sued Wilco for the effects unauthorized use on the CD and the band eventually settled out of court.
The Post's Segal writes:
- "So what's a rock band to do if it wants to keep the guitars and churn new ground? How do you make something so familiar seem daring?
Enter Wilco, a quintet that started as an alt-country act and is now boldly going where no rockers have gone before. Two years ago the group released an album with a song called "Poor Places." It starts as a droopy ballad, but eventually the drums fade, the melody evaporates, and up roars a truly terrifying hurricane of sound. As it builds to a climax, a woman's urgent semaphore peeks through the noise:
"Yankee. Hotel. Foxtrot. Yankee. Hotel. Foxtrot. Yankee. Hotel. Foxtrot."
It's a track from "Conet," the voice of Ms. International Radio Operator herself. The band sampled it and used it to name the album. "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" would earn Wilco its strongest reviews ever -- it was No. 1 that year in the Village Voice national poll of music critics -- and it sold decently, too.
At various moments on "Yankee" you can hear lead singer and co-songwriter Jeff Tweedy struggling with the where-do-we-go-now question. And he finds an answer, or at least part of an answer, in the same place as Fernandez, way way out there, in the ionosphere. Which is apparently where you wind up now when you seek the unpainted corner of the musical canvas.
It's enough to make you think that what's left of rock's frontier isn't very pretty; there isn't even music playing there. At some point -- after punk crested, perhaps, in the late '70s -- innovation in guitar pop became a matter of creative arithmetic. Blind Willie McTell plus Led Zeppelin times garage rock equals the White Stripes. The Velvet Underground plus the Cars divided by an intercom system equals the Strokes. But this has limits, too. The Strokes' second album, "Room on Fire," is just a rehash of their first. It's redundant and kind of gutless. It's everything that Fernandez hates.
"Conet" ultimately defines the crux of rock's problem in middle age. How do you double back without seeming timid? How do you roll forward without seeming incomprehensible for its own sake?"
More on Wilco and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. And in case that's not enough, here's a discussion on Velvet Rope of Slate article bashing Wilco's "Ghost".