A Ghost Is Born

Following up a career-making, universally acclaimed opus is enough to fray the edges of a human being’s sanity. We saw this in Meeting People Is Easy, the impossibly morbid documentary about Radiohead’s tour in support of OK Computer, and we heard it in Kid A, Radiohead’s even more insular and paranoid follow-up album. Wilco’s 2002 album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was that sort of creative supernova — experimental in an approachable way, coping with white male despair through the prism of classic guitar music, an expansive yet unified vision, totally fucking awesome — to the extent that it landed Wilco with a reputation as the “American Radiohead.” And like Radiohead, Wilco followed up their instant classic with a more difficult collection of songs that seemed to be the outpouring of a frontman’s unmoored mind. But A Ghost Is Born, which turned 10 yesterday, is not the same kind of album as Kid A. Although Jeff Tweedy was becoming increasingly concerned about the George W. Bush administration at the time, these are not explicitly political or globally minded songs. There are Big Ideas, but no “ice age coming” doomsday talk. Nor is there a palpable sense that Wilco is trying to subvert your expectations or that they felt creatively paralyzed by the task of following YHF. Sonically, the scope is vaster than ever. The band’s ever-evolving lineup had never comprised so many experimentally inclined musicians, and Chicago avant-garde mainstay Jim O’Rourke, the guy who gave YHF its genius collage-like mixing job, was on board as producer. But the content could not have been more specific to Tweedy and the struggles that haunted his placid suburban existence. A Ghost Is Born presents a more personal, distinctly Midwestern turmoil. It is proof that everyday life can drive you crazy too.

Chuck Klosterman’s Spin feature from July 2004 sheds light on the circumstances surrounding the album’s creation and release. Tweedy had always suffered from panic attacks and vomit-inducing migraines, but they grew ever more intense during the making of A Ghost Is Born. He started taking massive amounts of Vicodin to cope, then quit popping pills cold turkey, including the medicine he had been prescribed for his panic attacks. When he went back on his prescription medication, it didn’t help with his panic attacks anymore, and he ended up in the hospital a few months after the album wrapped up, followed by a “dual-diagnosis” rehab facility that linked substance abuse with mental illness. Tweedy would probably balk at the idea of letting those events dominate your understanding of A Ghost Is Born, and it’s definitely a more complex record than that. Still, the inscrutable and playfully skippy “Company In My Back” includes a lyric about puking, and the bulk of the 15-minute “Less Than You Think” is a feedback experiment designed to evoke one of Tweedy’s migraines — not to mention the vague references to buying illicit substances downtown on “Handshake Drugs” — so it would be wrong to ignore those factors entirely. The album is threaded with a beautiful fragility, starting with the domestic discord lullaby that kicks off album opener “At Least That’s What You Said.” Yet that song’s hushed piano prologue is jolted awake by a scraping roots-rock riff and full-band pounding that rapidly expands into sprawling waves of Crazy Horse guitar. A Ghost Is Born follows that pattern from then on, veering between peaceful beauty and abrasive noise of the rock ’n’ roll and avant varieties. Knowing what we know about the album’s background, it’s hard not to hear its blend of serenity and abrasion as a musical depiction of Tweedy’s anxious inner workings.

If Tweedy’s weathered vocals communicated the frailty, his uncombed guitar work is responsible for much of the disruption. A Ghost Is Born is the first album Wilco made entirely without Jay Bennett, the traditionalist foil whose influence reached its pinnacle on the 1999′s rootsy pop daydream Summerteeth. Bennett left the band during the making of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot due to creative differences with Tweedy; meanwhile, O’Rourke’s increasing influence blurred the lines between Wilco and Loose Fur, Tweedy’s free-range side project with O’Rourke and Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche. One of the results was that the spazzed-out six-string meanderings that marked YHF’s “I’m The Man Who Loves You” roamed the whole of A Ghost Is Born like a feral cat. Similarly, all the experimental impulses that lingered on the fringes of the previous record were pushed further to the center this time around. The exploratory spirit manifested itself in a handful of ways: “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” is a krautrock song with a classic rock breakdown. The glimmering arpeggios of “Muzzle Of Bees” build to a climax that weaves abrasive guitar skree into the prettiest passage of music Wilco ever recorded. For every dose of moody twilight balladry like “Wishful Thinking,” there is an on-edge outburst like “I’m A Wheel.” As a result, A Ghost Is Born was the most difficult Wilco ever got, the culmination of the band’s journey from the alt-country’s core to art-rock’s accessible fringe.

Even at their most obtuse, though, Wilco never stopped kicking out pure classic-rock cuts like Tweedy’s big Paul McCartney moment “Hummingbird” and the rollicking album closer “The Late Greats.” No matter how deeply they dabbled with figures like O’Rourke, at their core they remained a populist rock ’n’ roll band, Tweedy’s easygoing melodies gliding on John Stirratt’s playfully sturdy bass lines. That’s for the best because Tweedy is impossibly good at injecting fresh gravitas into well-worn forms, as evidenced by A Ghost Is Born’s two finest songs. “Hell Is Chrome” is Randy Newman piano-pop with a deadened soul, the sound of Tweedy letting staid, orderly modern existence close in on him, his contentment becoming claustrophobia. He blames his despair on the influence of a chrome-colored devil, whereas “Theologians” turns a skeptical glance toward a different spiritual plane. Riding a steady, soulful groove, Tweedy quotes passages from Jesus Christ’s Farewell Discourse while brusquely asserting that “theologians don’t know nothin’ about my soul” and identifying himself as “a cherry ghost.” Even if his exact meaning is elusive, the chorus more than gets the point across.

Many of the fans that discovered Wilco during their more traditionalist early years decried A Ghost Is Born as a pretentious point of no return, and in the decade since then the band seemed to heed those concerns. After this midlife crisis of a record, Wilco settled into an easygoing middle age. The lineup they assembled to tour behind A Ghost Is Born finally stuck, putting an end to years of turnover but also seemingly cementing the parameters of the band’s sound once and for all and permanently infusing all their material with Nels Cline’s jazzy lead guitar acrobatics. Even as they continued to write all kinds of different songs and release good-to-great LPs, they became a less restless, more comfortable band. We can probably chalk that up at least in part to Tweedy getting a handle on the neuroses that drove his most fruitful creative period, and if so, I’m happy for him. Still, as someone who fell deeply in love with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot the summer after high school, I’m incredibly grateful Wilco had one more album like this in them.

In the weeks leading up to A Ghost Is Born’s release, I was wrapping up a quarter studying abroad in Spain, and conveniently Wilco played Primavera Sound in Barcelona a couple weeks before the album dropped. As with YHF, they streamed A Ghost Is Born on their website way ahead of the physical release, and I’d managed a couple listens in an internet cafe, but hearing this shimmering, skronking music in person, I was astounded. It was like watching A Ghost Is Born in IMAX; it made the album feel every bit as vital as the series of increasingly stunning releases that preceded it. In the ensuing years, the album has lost some of its luster. The songwriting isn’t quite as sharp. The tracklist doesn’t flow as intuitively. The bleariness is harder to bear, and the flashes of sunlight that burst through the fog shine less brightly. It feels more and more like a lesser sequel to an essentially perfect record — the first Wilco album that failed to top what came before, the comedown from the breathless evolution that began with Being There, the last gasp of Wilco’s prime. Yet it’s still very much a part of that prime, an imperfect classic laden with gorgeous arrangements, evocative lyrics, and melodies that ease their way into your consciousness for good.

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Comments (51)
  1. Wow I’m surprised you got to see them live so close to the release date. I remember being so excited to see them at Coachella in 2004, so much that I toppled my chair backwards when I saw their name removed from the line-up a week out from the festival. It took about 3 years for me to get my first chance to see them live.

    “A Ghost Is Born” is when I first head about Wilco. YHF was my primary introduction, but like Chris said, “A Ghost Is Born” was streaming on their Web site well before its official release. By the time I bought a copy late June of 2004, I was so familiar with the tracks that it quickly became my summer soundtrack.

    “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” is probably one of the earliest times I recall thinking, “Damn, long songs can be so much more fun than shorter songs.” And boy do they kill that song live? A show stopper.

  2. I still really dig this album. Sure, it’s not as good as YHF or Summerteeth, but it’s a still a cool and pretty unique listen. “Handshake Drugs,” “Muzzle of Bees” and “Theologians” have long been a few of my favorite Wilco songs.

    I kind of lament –– though paradoxically, I can’t really disagree –– the conventional wisdom (echoed in this article) that the Being There through A Ghost is Born run of Wilco records represents their pinnacle, and everything after that can be quickly dismissed. The last three records are pretty solid, I think. I’ve warmed to Sky Blue Sky quite a bit over the years, and I think The Whole Love is nearly as good as anything in the aforementioned stretch of “essential” Wilco albums. Plus I sort of appreciate how they refocused on being such a reliably amazing live act, rather than trying to top YHF; the latter might have ended up being either a little embarrassing or just hazardous to the band’s health.

    Having said that, I would fully welcome more Tweedy/ Jim O’Rouke collaborations. Or just generally, more Jim O’Rourke anything.

  3. Great writeup, and thanks for it. This was the last great Wilco album, and I’ll part ways with you at your last paragraph. I won’t argue that A Ghost is Born is better than YHF, but the songwriting is sharper, the fog is foggier, and the sunshine is brighter. The album slumps a bit in places, but I would argue that all of Wilco’s albums do, YHF included. I think Wilco have written more great songs than any band going right now (Radiohead might be a contender, speaking of), but this is the album that I go back to most frequently as an entire piece.

  4. carson  |   Posted on Jun 23rd +12

    Really dig this album. Sometimes I might even be more inclined to listen to this than YHF. That said, y’all got to stop underestimating Sky Blue Sky. It’s a more laid back record, but I’d still say it’s a musically rich, emotionally dynamic one. Like a streamlined A Ghost Is Born. If A Ghost Is A Born is about living through addiction, Sky Blue Sky is about trying to live peacefully in the void your addictions used to fill. Of course, Pitchfork called it dad rock because all their dads were recovering drug addicts.

    • I agree about Sky Blue Sky, carson. Very good album. I think that it only suffers from following Summerteeth, YHF, and A Ghost is Born. For me, as much as Jeff Tweedy’s songwriting centers on melody and poetry, he also embraces a certain level “I don’t care what you think”. That cognitive dissonance created, for me, an uncomfortable moment (or moments) on each of the albums that I would consider “great”. I came to love those moments, but Sky Blue Sky doesn’t really have that feature. There are a couple of great moments that rival anything that they ever did (sonically). Perhaps the entire album is a statement in contrarianism, and I think that your description is apt. Sky Blue Sky is very nice to listen to, and I am a huge fan of “dad rock” (apparently). Just isn’t at the same level for me.

      I disconnected with Wilco after Sky Blue Sky because it feels like Tweedy has gone too far down his own path of contrarian doodling. With few exceptions, the songwriting has constrained one of the best drummers and one of the best lead guitarists working right now. The lineup is great if you have the opportunity to see the band live, but that doesn’t really translate to LP.

  5. I have such strong feelings about this band. When Being There came out I was absolutely blown away. AM hinted at a depth few bands possess and Being There blew the lid off everything for me. I enjoyed Summerteeth almost as victory lap.

    And have had no use for anything since. YHF created such a buzz and everybody loved it. I felt utterly betrayed. To me they just became another rock band at that point. And despite trying every album since then nothing even scratches the surface of emotion for me. And it really, really sucks.

    Anybody else ever just had the switch turn off for a band? I’ve had in happen with Wilco, Okkervill River, The Shins, and a few others. Bands I just loved more than anything and then…….nothing.

    anybody else?

    • Although I disagree with you on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, I can relate to feeling like the switch turned off for certain bands. (Daft Punk is a perfect example in my case, which is well documented in my comments on this site.)

      It seems like most great artists have 2 consensus classics (e.g. Public Enemy, Weezer, Daft Punk, Sufjan Stevens, M.I.A.) before returns start diminishing. Discussion of the other albums usually comes with disclaimers like, “It’s not as bad as everyone says it is,” or “There are like 2 or 3 really good songs though!” Wilco – along with Radiohead, Animal Collective, Joanna Newsom, Kanye West, Spoon, and a few others – is one of the few contemporary artists to have released 3+ classic albums in its career.

      …so yeah, I get you.

      • Like the poster below, The Flaming Lips are like that for me — once they released At War with The Mystics, I couldn’t take it anymore. It’s weird because I recognize that Embryonic is pretty good, but I still just can’t.

        I also had that with all Les Claypool projects, with Umphrey’s McGee (yes, I dabble in jambands) and, to a lesser extent, with Beck post Sea Change.

        • That’s hysterical. Cuz I’m like that with The Flaming Lips as well. I think the early stuff is garbage, really like Soft Bulletin, ADORE Yoshimi and then….bleccchhh.

          Glad to know it’s not just me.

          • You should give the (late) early stuff another listen. Hit to Death in the Future Head and Transmissions from the Satellite Heart both have some really great songs on them. Gingerale Afternoon is probably my favorite Flaming Lips song.

          • The Flaming Lip’s early albums (“Hear It Is” through “Telepathic Surgery”) are pretty amateur. Starting with “In a Priest Driven Ambulance” they start to get incrementally better with each album. IAPDA finds them honing their control over noise, “Hit to Death…” finds them broadening the sonic palette, “Transmissions…” was their first focused attempt at a pop record, and “Clouds Taste Metallic” is their mid-period masterpiece; a summation of everything they had done in the previous five years and also their best album.

            There was a time when I would’ve said they were my favorite band. Lately though, they just haven’ done anything for me. Like a poster above me, I recognize that “Embryonic” is really good, but I hardly ever want to listen to it. “At War With Mystics” seemed like a cash-in on The Flaming Lips “image” (whacky, confetti covered pop songs, sad lullabies, life-affirming anthems) with none of the heart. And all of their post “Embryonic” work just reaffirms my suspicions that Wayne is going through some midlife crisis.

            Anyways, yeah, try “Clouds Taste Metallic” again.

        • Claypool…yeah I’d say he fits. All Primus through Tales From the Punch Bowl was pretty great and then the next two left something to be desired.

          Then all his collaborative stuff as he got more into the jam scene was really strong as well – the Frog Brigade, Oysterhead, C2B3…but then Of Whales & Woe and the Primus reunion were both about half-and-half, and his next solo one sounded like an utter waste of time.

          I’d still seem him live in just about any situation, though.

          • I’m right with you on the Claypool stuff. Sailing the Seas of Cheese will always be his masterpiece though (Suck on This slays too).

        • Fellow jamband fan here. I feel like Umphrey’s McGee peaked in the studio at Mantis. Thoughts?

          • Mantis is around the time I fell off the Umphrey’s bandwagon. I had spent the previous few years traveling around and seeing them every new year’s, at lots of festivals and most west coast dates. When they started focusing on more Kansasy songs and less goofball jams, it just stopped doing as much for me. For me, Anchor Drops was probably their peak.

      • Girls can tell, Kill the Moonlight, and Gimme Fiction?

        Just curious

        • I was referring to Girls Can Tell, Kill the Moonlight, and Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, but I don’t think you’re the only one who would go to bat for Gimme Fiction. I’d throw it in with Room on Fire, Hail to the Thief, Kish Kash, Antics, 808s & Heartbreak, Stay Positive, High Violet, and other non-classics that are very much worth a listen.

          Also, I feel the same way about the Flaming Lips and considered including them in my original list. Just for fun, here are a few more examples of El Goodo’s Law of 2 Classics:

          Boards of Canada
          The Dismemberment Plan
          The Hold Steady
          Modest Mouse
          The National
          Phoenix
          The Shins
          Sigur Rós
          The Streets
          A Tribe Called Quest
          TV on the Radio
          The White Stripes

          • Curious about which D-Plan albums you’d mention. I assume E&I and Change, but I actually like Is Terrified better than Change.

            Also assuming you mean White Blood Cells and Elephant, though I would go to bat for De Stijl over Elephant.

            And with Sigur you’re saying Agaetis Byrjun and ( ), right?

          • Yes, I was referring to Emergency & I and Change. I’ve only ever heard “The Ice of Boston” from The Dismemberment Plan Is Terrified but have been meaning to listen to the entire album for a while now.

            Yes, and I completely agree with you on ranking De Stijl above Elephant. Elephant is also an example of El Goodo’s Law of Retroactive Acclaim, by which the critical establishment compensates for being late to the party for a classic album by overrating its follow-up.

            Yes, right again.

          • Holy crap. Your theory holds water. I’ve genuinely never thought about it that way before. That being said I think the new National might be in the same rarefied air as Boxer or High Violet. It’s just a more delicate and nuanced album.

            Neat concept, thanks

          • Dismemberment Plan Is Terrified is a great album. I have Change at the top of the heap, but Is Terrified is a definite contender. Also, I go to bat for Stay Positive and I think Nine Different Types Of Light is the best TV On The Radio album. Also also, Modest Mouse, upon returning to their albums recently, never released a bum album. Like, at all.

          • Blah. This list already shoots holes through El Goodos Law. Modest Mouse, White Stripes, THe National, and the above-mentioned Spoon all have more than two great albums.

          • I clearly stated that Spoon has released 3 classic albums and that Gimme Fiction, while not considered a classic by the critical establishment, is still a great album. As for the rest, you’re right that each of those groups has more than 2 great albums, but my theory is limited to classic albums. Good News for People Who Love Bad News, De Stijl, and Trouble Will Find Me are undeniably great but haven’t earned the same level of acclaim as The Moon & Antarctica, White Blood Cells, and Alligator. (The jury is still out on High Violet, whose reception was initially very positive but had cooled off by the end of the year. We won’t know until late 2019 when the decade-end lists come rolling in.)

      • Are you completely ignoring classic rock? Neil Young? Led Zeppelin? The Beatles? Bob Dylan?

  6. Wilco’s one of my all-time top bands and Ghost and YHF are always switching back and forth as my favorite album of theirs. Maybe it’s because I came to Wilco late (I was listening to a few songs around the release of YHF but didn’t really become a fanatic until years later) and had already put in a lot of time listening to Animal Collective, Captain Beefheart and other “challenging” music, but I really am unable to hear why Ghost is said to be such a challenging record — 15 minute migraine meditation aside. I just hear brilliant songs with some incredible sonic flourishes. I also really love how Tweedy pushed himself and stepped forward as the lead guitarist on this album leading to some of the best solos in the Wilco catalogue (Spiders). This is the first album I got when I started buying vinyl again a few years ago and it’s just one of those perfect albums where all of the sonic richness you hear about existing on vinyl really come to life (Tweedy often says that the vinyl records are the “true” versions).

    Glad to see Sky Blue Sky getting some love in the comment section too. That’s easily my 3rd favorite of theirs. I mean, come one, when the guitar hits in “You Are My Face,” its just an earth-shattering moment every time. Such a solid album. For me their 3 album peak was Ghost – YHF – SBS, after that I like The Whole Love then AM Radio. Being There and Summerteeth have some songs as good as anywhere in their catalogue but I find myself skipping way too many. Oddly, I’ve never listened to Wilco (The Album) but Bull Black Nova slays it live.

    One of my biggest concert disappointments was seeing them last year in Murcia, Spain. A Spanish friend of mine had really gotten me into them a couple years prior so we thrilled that they were playing a couple dates in the south (no one comes through southern Spain. well, I did see Thurston Moore and The Meat Puppets, but thats about it over a 3-year period) The concert was part of a welcome back university students festival and we were surrounded by 18-21 year olds who never looked up at the stage — they were just having yelling conversations that blocked out the music (Spanish are WAY louder than Americans on average) and waiting to go to the bars to hear some reggaeton afterwards. Wilco, as always, killed it, but I could barely hear a thing and I freaked out a bunch of Spaniard by telling them to shut up, so I could listen. I think the idea of wanting to pay attention to a rock band was completely incomprehensible to this group.

  7. The Terror is the album that made me throw the switch to “OFF” for The Flaming Lips. It will be remembered as their Metal Machine Music when all the dust clears. Utter wankery.

    A Ghost Is Born was my introduction to Wilco and I became obsessed with them after that, devouring their back discography one at a time. When I got to AM Sky Blue Sky was just released, and the comedown combination of those 2 hitting my ears at exactly the same time was enough to put me off Wilco for a while. Too sleepy. I’ve yet to hear anything off Wilco The Album. Then they release The Whole Love and all is right in the world once more!

  8. Wilco is my favorite band ever and there have been Wilco fans that get mad at me for saying this but I think THE WHOLE LOVE is their best album since YANKEE HOTEL FOXTROT and I think it beats out everything before SUMMERTEETH as well. And if were using the Radiohead double standard, I think TWL was more ambitious and enjoyable than their 2011 release The King of Limbs. I feel like people mistaken Wilco’s current sound as dad-rock. It took a while for their new lineup to get acclimated but members wise, it’s probably their most musically inclined and talented lineup yet. Every time I see them live I am blown away by the backup Jeff has from not just Nels but also Pat and Mikael. Honestly, their self titled album to me was their most boring and weakest record to date. To me, The Whole Love was almost the return to their form. I think they may have a little more magic left in them for the future if they keep at what they’re doing. As a live band, I’ve seen them enough times in my life and enough times recently to confirm they are as tight as they’ve ever been. Summerteeth will always be their Pet Sounds to me.

    Amazing write-up. As far as A Ghost is Born goes, the correlation of the album does not make quite as much sense as their other records but the individual tracks are some of their strongest. This clearly was Jeff’s most personal album and represents his tortured artist phase. The standouts on this album like “Handshake Drugs” and “Spiders” just grab me every single time.

    All in all, Wilco has always been a band to me that regardless of their critical acclaim, never gets the credit they deserve from the Indie community especially. It really is hard to find a band with so much individual talent in each member and it really is hard to come by songwriters like Jeff Tweedy who has the ability to both honor those that came before him while also always be looking forward and advancing his sound (Jim James and Thom Yorke fall into that umbrella too). I think they are a future Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame band and when I one day have kids, I hope they are the band that dominates the classic rock stations as they’ve earned it. You just have to go through their catalogue and see all the ground they covered and I seriously think they can be compared to the Beatles, Stones, Dead, etc.

    • And yes, enough hating on Sky Blue Sky. It’s imperfect but arguably one of their best albums in terms of the way it’s contributed to their live shows.

  9. This album was my introduction to Wilco, and will probably always be my favorite of theirs. That incredible curve ball in At Least That’s What You Said, when Tweedy blows the song up and plays what is arguably one of the greatest guitar solos of recent memory — that moment blew my fifteen-year-old brain into pieces. And then every song on the album did similarly amazing things. Between “ALTWYS” and “Theologians”, there are two of my favorite songs, ever.

    The album’s long, and it’s dense, but it’s beautiful and wounded. I love it. Top-five album for me.

    Also, I am so glad you wrote this sentence, Chris, because I could not agree more about that melody: “The glimmering arpeggios of “Muzzle Of Bees” build to a climax that weaves abrasive guitar skree into the prettiest passage of music Wilco ever recorded.” Gorgeous song.

    • Similar story here. I remember liking classic rock exclusively up to the night in my computer room when I heard A Ghost is Born – Hell is Chrome stood out most to me. I think this album was the perfect bridge from classic rock to contemporary rock for me. After hearing this album my whole life changed. Thanks Wilco! Can’t believe I have been listening to good music for 10 years now.

  10. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is probably the better album, but A Ghost Is Born has a wider influence. The gorgeous guitar in “Muzzle of Bees”, the motorik of “Spiders (Kidsmoke)”, “At Least That’s What You Said” ‘s skronk, those all seem to be pretty popular musical choices for indie rock bands over the last few years.

  11. I was with you (Chris) all the way to the end, but the certainty with which you declare AGIB has “lost its luster” and feels “like a lesser sequel to an essentially perfect record” rubs me just a little bit the wrong way. I realize I’m probably being overly sensitive, but I’ve always thought it to be every bit the masterpiece YHF was, with perhaps even a little more teeth. Plus “Muzzle of Bees” and “At Least That’s What You Said.” Absolute stunners.

    I like the comparisons to OK Computer and Kid A though, both for the reasons you mentioned above and because I often go back and forth about which is their “best” (ie: my favorite), largely depending on my mood. Similarly, if anyone said Kid A has shown itself to be a definitively “lesser sequel” I’d probably get all huffy about that, too.

  12. I have never listened to Wilco but have heard alot about that. If I was interested in checking them out, what album would be the correct starting point to investigate them?

  13. ga  |   Posted on Jun 24th 0

    I’ve tried really hard to get into this band, but it’s just never stuck. I’ve tried YHF and the one after it. To fans, iff there are 2-3 defining songs this band has that encapsulates what they are all about and are surefire winners to draw outsider in, what would they be?

    • 1. Handshake Drugs
      2. A Shot in the Arm
      3. I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
      4. Impossible Germany
      5. Misunderstood

    • I’ll take a shot, but you are asking two different questions:

      1.) Songs that encapsulate what the band is about
      -Misunderstood (live version, if possible)
      -via Chicago
      -Art of Almost or Spiders/Kidsmoke

      2.) Surefire winners (while simultaneously having no idea what you are into)
      -Jesus, etc.
      -A Shot in the Arm
      -Theologians or Hate it Here (can’t go wrong with Impossible Germany, either

      That should also give you a good range of albums.

    • Poor Places.

    • Gotta be:

      1) At Least That’s What You Said
      2) Impossible Germany
      3) I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
      4) Shot in the Arm (live version from Chicago)

  14. Jim O’Rourke’s production shaped this album.

    I remember when the first live versions of songs that would wind up on Sky Blue Sky came out and I first heard “Impossible Germany.” Of course it’s a great song, but the period of time between hearing that early live version and the resultant album release allowed me to imagine what would happen with the tune might O’Rourke’s stamp be on it. Needless to say, it just wasn’t the same.

  15. Completely random observation: I’ve always thought “Company at My Back” was about ants disrupting a picnic. It’s probably not, but I’ve never been able to shake the association.

  16. Oops, sorry! You didn’t mention it in the original thesis but now I see it at the end. I wonder why there’s that distinction though. Much slower output for most contemporary artists, thus not taking advantage of their artistic sweet spot? I don’t really buy that though.

    • this was supposed to respond to El Goodo

    • No worries. I only made the distinction to prevent myself from having to list the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, the Who, Prince, etc. You’re right that contemporary artists generally release much less material in a 5-10 year period than their classic rock peers, but I’m not sure whether that would explain the decrease in the average number of classic albums per acclaimed artist since the late 90s. I will say that it’s affected the way we listen to and appreciate new music. Albums like Merriweather Post Pavilion, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and Modern Vampires of the City were so rapturously received partly because artists like Animal Collective, Kanye West, and Vampire Weekend whose output is so consistently excellent are an increasingly rare phenomenon. I mean, the 2000s in particular saw plenty of promising talents arrive fully formed with a classic debut yet nowhere to go but down (e.g. The Strokes, Interpol, Dizzee Rascal, Arcade Fire). I’ll stop short of saying that music was just better back then, but statistically speaking, things done changed in the game.

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