I assassin down the avenue
I'm hiding out in the big city blinking
What was I thinking when I let go of you"
With that evocative verse and disparate song elements that wouldn't fully cohere until several minutes into the song, Wilco opened their 2002 album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. At this point, the story behind the album's release is as big as or bigger than the actual songs but we shouldn't forget about the music. The songs were great when I first listened to them as a stream from Wilco's website and they are still great more than 7 years later when I run them through iTunes or crank it on my car stereo.
There's the hushed intimacy and urgency of "Jesus, Etc." The goofy fun of "Heavy Metal Drummer." The moody dirge of "Ashes of American Flags," which wonders why we listen to poets "when nobody gives a fuck" all where Tweedy's "lies are always wishes." And no matter how many times I listen to it, the ending of "Poor Places" always gets me as the music dissolves into searing feedback that just scrapes at my soul; I think the fact it comes after the swell and build of it all makes it that much more devastating. It's an epic in just over 5 minutes.
I know I said I wasn't going to rank anything in this series but I will admit that if I had to choose my favorite album of the last ten years, this would be it. It might even be my favorite album ever.