Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Brain vs iPod: Wilco Edition

In addition to my ongoing Primer Series, I thought I’d look a bit into how the iPod has made its way into my life and how it has affected my tastes and habits. Being that Wilco just released a pretty strong album, I’ll use them as the guinea pig for this experiment.

Wilco has released six albums (not including the lovely Kicking Television live album or their Mermaid Avenue releases with Billy Bragg). Below are how I would rank them completely off the top of my head, with no regard to anything but the regard in which I hold each release:

1. A Ghost Is Born (2004). For reasons unbeknownst to me, this album brings out a lot of emotion in me. As I’ve said about other things before (“Desolation Row”, Huff), this is like listening to an anxiety attack. It’s tense, it’s technically proficient, it’s emotional, and “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” is my favorite Wilco song.

2. Summerteeth (1999). The fun songs are as fun as Wilco has gotten, and the dark songs are as dark as Wilco has gotten. Quite the roller coaster, but it works...and it was a giant leap up from Being There.

3. Sky Blue Sky (2007). Every album is more mature and technically sound than the last, and that trend has continued with the latest. I’ll have to expand on it later, but it’s good.

4. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002). This was a sonic leap for the band, and they justifiably got a lot of attention for it (go pick up Greg Kot’s Learning How to Die for detailed information about the drama that was this album...seriously, do it now...great read...) there are plenty of fantastic songs (“I Am Trying to Break Your Heart”, “I’m the Man Who Loves You”), but it’s just not as enjoyable a listen.

5. Being There (1996). I love that this album has a Pekin, IL, reference (“I wanna be your kingpin, living in Pekin” from “Kingpin”)—it is my father-in-law’s hometown, and until a couple of decades ago, their school nickname was amazingly the Chinks, and writing about this song finally gives me the opportunity to mention that—plus, songs like “I Got You (At the End of the Century)” are fantastic live; however, it’s just not quite as enjoyable as any of the four albums above.

6. A.M. (1995). It's good--and extremely Uncle Tupelo-esque--but it has been surpassed (in my ears) five times in the twelve years since its release. Wilco has matured deeply with each album, but they had to start somewhere.

For the most part, I’m ranking these albums based on the fondness and feeling I have for them. In all, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was far more of an achievement than Summerteeth, but I enjoy listening to Summerteeth more (same with a band like Pearl Jam—Ten and Vs were bigger achievements at the time, but gimme Yield any day of the week). I’m pretty sure everybody does basically the same thing.

But what does my iPod tell me about how I think?

A while back, I wrote about how the iPod has changed my tastes and listening habits, and I thought I’d revisit the issue by looking at how I rated the songs on each album. If you remember (and I’m sure you do), I give a song a star rating while listening to the iPod in the car or at work—I can pretty much do this without taking my eyes off the road at this point, so fear not, mid-Missouri drivers. Here are the Wilco albums ranked in order of the average rating I’ve given to each songs.

1. Summerteeth: 4.14. Five-star songs: “Can’t Stand It”, “A Shot in the Arm”, “I’m Always in Love”, “Nothing’severgonnastandinmywayagain”, “Via Chicago”

2. A Ghost Is Born: 4.09. Five-star songs: “Spiders (Kidsmoke)”, “The Late Greats”, “Hell Is Chrome”, “Company in My Back”

3. Sky Blue Sky: 4.00. Five-star songs: “Walken”, “What Light”, “On and On and On”

4. Being There: 3.95. Five-star songs: “Misunderstood”, “Monday”, “I Got You (At the End of the Century)”

5. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot: 3.91. Five-star songs: “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart”, “Heavy Metal Drummer”, “I’m the Man Who Loves You”

6. A.M.: 3.62. Five-star songs: none

Okay, it’s roughly the same. What does this mean exactly? Well, if you know Wilco, you realize that a majority of the 5-star songs are the rockin’ kind...Jeff Tweedy does navel-gazing and introspective as well as anybody, but when he and the band let their hair down, they rock as well as any band I know.

This probably also explains why I enjoy Summerteeth so much...while it has plenty of downbeat songs like “She’s a Jar” and “We’re Just Friends” and “Via Chicago”, it also has lots of good hard rock songs.

Unlike my last iPod post, when I realized that an album like Counting Crows’ Hard Candy had ‘ratings’ as good as Exile on Main Street*, my song ratings seem to be a pretty accurate and telling representation of the album as a whole, which is good, because I was wanting to use my song ratings in part to create a Best Albums of 2007 list soon. I also figure this is a fun way to discuss bands that people are more familiar with (and therefore really don’t need a ‘Primer’ type of write-up), so stay tuned. I’m sure you will.

* I should note that, after a little friendly mocking from Michael Atchison, I revisited Exile on Main Street, and it turned out that I must have been in a really pissy mood when I rated Exile songs...upon further review, I upgraded the ratings for about half the damn songs on the album, and it now rates higher than Hard Candy. Justice has prevailed.

Add to Technorati Favorites del.icio.us