Saturday, September 5, 2015

Wilco - Here Comes Everybody

Wilco – Here Comes Everybody

(soniclovenoize reconstruction)

1.  A Magazine Called Sunset
2.  Kamera
3.  Radio Cure
4.  Cars Can’t Escape
5.  The Good Part
6.  Shakin’ Sugar
7.  Laminated Cat
8.  Ashes of American Flags
9.  Heavy Metal Drummer
10.  I’m The Man Who Loves You
11.  Pot Kettle Black
12.  Poor Places
13.  Venus Stopped The Train
14.  Iamtryingtobreakyourheart

In honor of the surprise release of Wilco’s (pretty fantastic) new album Star Wars, here is a reconstruction of what could have been their fourth album--Here Comes Everybody.  Eventually restructured as their 2001 masterpiece Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, the album ended up very different than the early working tapes due to shifting band members, song arrangements and label affiliations.  Compiling alternate versions from two sets of demo discs as well as a number of studio outtakes, we are able to piece together a less-experimental album more in-line with the band’s previous album Summerteeth (ideally featuring more appearances of multi-instrumentalist Jay Bennett and drummer Ken Coomer, who exited the band during this period).  Some unique edits were made to make new, complete takes;  the tracks were also either crossfaded or banded closely; and all songs are volume-adjusted to create a cohesive listening experience.  

At the end of the 20th Century, Wilco had become critical darling in search of the ever-elusive hit single and the battle between The Artist and The Industry had already bubbled over several times.  Lead singer/songwriter Jeff Tweedy desired Wilco’s second album--1996’s Being There--to be a double album, an idea vetoed by their label Reprise Records; a compromise was reached, in which Tweedy allowed a significant cut of his royalties from the album which offset the label’s loss, in order for it to be released as a double.  The sprawling album that straddled alt-country and experimental-rock gained enough critical success to warrant artistic freedom for their follow-up, 1999’s Summerteeth.  Although once again garnishing much critical acclaim for the album’s lush Pet Sounds-esque layers as well as Tweedy’s songwriting prowess, Reprise Records didn’t hear a hit single and demanded to create a radio-friendly mix of “I Can’t Stand It”.  Wilco acquiesced, knowing how much freedom they had been already allowed in an era of the emergence of media oligopolies and a long list of bands dropped from the label's roster.  The song failed to be a hit, and Wilco approached the danger zone. 

Regrouping at the band’s own rehearsal space in late 2000 to record the follow-up entirely themselves, Wilco’s fourth album at this point had the working title of Here Comes Everybody, a reference to James Joyce’s masterpiece Finnegan’s Wake.  The ever-changing metaphysics of Joyce’s H.C.E. character was appropriate, as the nature of the recording sessions changed as well, moving into early 2001.  While initially the songs were a second wind of Summerteeth—solid songwriting played by a solid rock band with layers upon layers of experimental sounds by multi-instrumentalist Jay Bennett—Tweedy wished to push the boundaries of the band itself.  After spending the year with side project Loose Fur (consisting of Tweedy, experimental producer Jim O’Rourke and drummer Glen Kotche),  the more daring and sonically progressive sound of the trio greatly informed how Here Comes Everybody would progress as well.  The first step was replacing Wilco drummer Ken Coomer with Kotche himself.  A less busy drummer who focused on unusual and homemade percussion instruments, Kotche was able to rhythmically reinterpret Tweedy’s new songs (many already recorded) into a more exotic backbone to perpetuate the atmosphere of the songs, in contrast to Coomer’s more traditional rock drumming. 

The second step in the evolution of Here Comes Everybody into what we now know as Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, was the song selection and mixing process.  Dropping obvious career throwbacks (the Summerteeth-esque “A Magazine Called Sunset” or the Being There-esque “Never Let You Down") and focusing on the songs that specifically dealt with the curious dissatisfaction and personal alienation in an increasingly modern and technological world  ensured a fresh direction for the band.  Jim O’Rourke was brought in to mix the album and much to the displeasure of the rest of Wilco, the songs were drastically stripped to their emotional core, often leaving merely Kotche’s exotic percussion and Bennett’s dizzying sonics.  Gone was the traditional sound of a rock band and all that remained was the strength of the songs themselves, floating in a sea of opiate-inspired fuzzy guitars, twinkling pianos, anonymous voices and static.   

Not only did the album transform, but the band itself.  The behind-the-scenes battle over creative control of the band between Bennett and Tweedy had concluded with Bennett being dismissed from Wilco, an event depicted in the documentary I Am Trying To Break Your Heart.  Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was also the breaking point of the fragile relationship between Wilco and Reprise Records.  After the band refused to bend to label exec’s requests to “make some changes” upon hearing the album, Reprise refused to release it and instead offered Wilco to buy-out their contract (which included the rights to the album) for $50,000.  Accepting their offer, Wilco not only bought the rights back to the album their label refused to release, but they leaked it themselves--streaming it on their website for free--and went public with Reprise’s tactics.  The situation—as well as the strength of the fantastic album itself—earned a Wilco a new record deal with the indie label Nonesuch Records, this time with complete artistic freedom.  Who owned Nonesuch Records?  AOL/Time Warner , the same oligopoly who owned Reprise Records!  Wilco self-produced an album of music they wanted and essentially sold it back to the company who refused to release it in the firstplace. 

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was the musical turning point in the postmodern era that embodied all the issues that artists presently face: digital media as distribution, the effect of media oligopolies and the transfer of power to the underdog indie artists from the dinosaur cash-cows.   But in its original incarnation as Here Comes Everybody, history could have been very different for Wilco’s fourth album.  Using two different bootlegs of the rough and early mixes of the album (known as the YHF Demos and the YHF Engineer’s Demos) as well as some of the outtakes which didn’t conceptually fit, we are able to make a very different album, one that more logically follows Summerteeth and did not create such a radical artistic shift.  We will try to use as many Coomer-drummed tracks as possible as if he hadn’t been ousted from the band (as much as we ascertain, without knowing the specific credit of every recording).  Just as well, we’ll include two Bennett-penned tracks that were left on the cutting room floor, as if he too hadn’t been ousted from the band.     

We can begin this reconstruction of Here Comes Everybody with the most radio-friendly song, “A Magazine Called Sunset”, taken from the More Like The Moon EP.  Although an early mix most likely featuring Coomer on drums is found on the YHF Demos bootleg, we will use the more polished, finished track featuring Kotche on drums.  This is followed with the more rock-anthem-arranged “Kamera” from the YHF Demos.  Next, an early and very different, nearly tropicalia version of “Radio Cure“ that was originally titled “Corduroy Cutoff Girl”.   Taken from the YHF Demos, the redundant verses are edited out for a more logical and concise song framework.  Next is the fantastic piano ballad “Cars Can’t Escape”, taken from the Alpha Mike Foxtrot boxset and followed by the very Summerteeth-esque “The Good Part”, using the unreleased version from the YHF Demos that seem to feature Coomer on drums.  “Shakin Sugar” from the YHF Demos follows, a deeper album cut for sure but a Jay Bennett original that would later be recorded for his only solo album post-Wilco.  “Laminated Cat” concludes the first half of the album, a song later reimagined and recorded by Loose Fur.  Here is a straightforward Springsteen-esque version from the YHF Demos originally titled "Not For The Season."   

The second half of Here Comes Everybody follows more closely the sequence of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, except all sourced from early mixes found on the YHF Demos; these versions of “Ashes of American Flags”, “Heavy Metal Drummer”, “I’m The Man Who Loves You” and “Pot Kettle Black” all demonstrate how much of an impact Jim O’Rourke was on the sound of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot by deconstructing the arrangements at crucial points in the songs.  Next is a personal highlight for this album, the early version of “Poor Places” from the YHF Demos propelled by a barroom piano, featuring a full band and a slightly different structure.  Following is an edit of two rough mixes to create a complete take of “Venus Stopped The Train”, a song composed by Jay Bennett around a Jeff Tweedy poem, also re-recorded by Bennett for his solo album post-Wilco.  The album closes with the early version of “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” from the YHF Demos (which I have stylized as “Iamtryingtobreakyourheart”) which seems to feature Coomer on drums.  Instead of being an exciting opening track on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot that sets the mood for modern disillusionment, it becomes a confusing experimental afterthought to an already stylistically varied album. 

Is Here Comes Everybody an improvement over Yankee Hotel Foxtrot?  I don’t believe it is; pushing Wilco to new musical boundaries is a must for the band, and the album would not have had its historical impact had it not been cutting edge and unified vision.  Here Comes Everybody would certainly have been Wilco's White Album!  But this reconstruction at least shows how much Wilco did push their music at the time, how they got from point A to point B.  At the very least, Here Comes Everybody offers a more traditional option for those who like their Wilco without all the bells, whistles and... static.  

Sources used:
Alpha Mike Foxtrot: Rare Tracks 1994-2014 (1994 CD boxset Nonesuch)
More Like The Moon EP (2003 CD Nonesuch)
War On War (2002 CD Nonesuch)
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot Demos (bootleg, 2002)
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot Engineer Demos (bootleg, 2002)

flac --> wav --> editing in SONAR and Goldwave--> flac encoding via TLH lv8
*md5, artwork and tracknotes included