Wilco's legendary album, which turned 10 last week, was about how hard it is to communicate honestly—a problem that would seem to be more relevant than ever today.
There's a lot to say about the best rock record of the new millennium, but too few people talk about what it actually said. When it turned 10 last week, the appreciations for Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot largely focused on the trivia surrounding it: the way it was rejected by one Warner Bros. subsidiary only to be bought by another; the fact that it was streamed online at a time when doing so was unheard of; the acclaimed documentary about its creation; and the spookiness of the fact that its songs—replete with references to falling buildings, charred flags, and nameless dread—were originally set for a Sept. 11, 2001 release.
But the album endures because of its music, not its mythology. And that's not just because of the often-cited fact that it mixed folk and rock with other genres—Wilco and plenty of other alternative-leaning bands had already gone experimental in the '90s. Rather, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot's triumph was in how it captured a facet of human nature: the way we all send signals, hoping that someone will understand them but also anxious about what happens when someone does. You'll sometimes hear the album get called cryptic, or self-conscious, or difficult. And that's fine. It's really a soundtrack for the ways in which people ask to be misunderstood.