Wilco is an American alternative/indie rock band from Chicago, formed from the ashes of Uncle Tupelo. (After that pioneering Alternative Country outfit broke up in 1994, its two principal singer-songwriters moved on to form their own bands: Jay Farrar started Son Volt, while Jeff Tweedy and the other remaining members started Wilco.)
While their debut album, A.M., showed a heavy alt-country influence in its own right, Wilco evolved their sound in a more eclectic direction on subsequent releases, in the process becoming one of the most critically acclaimed bands of the '90s and '00s. At the same time, their lineup changed dramatically over time, with multiple members (including Max Johnston, Ken Coomer, Leroy Bach, Bob Egan, and most prominently, Jay Bennett) entering and leaving the band from 1995 to 2004. In addition to their original work, they also released the Mermaid Avenue series of albums in collaboration with English singer-songwriter Billy Bragg, in which they took unpublished Woody Guthrie lyrics and set them to music.
Their official website can be found here.
- A.M. (1995)
- Being There (1996)
- Summerteeth (1999)
- Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)
- A Ghost Is Born (2004)
- Kicking Television: Live in Chicago (2005)
- Sky Blue Sky (2007)
- Wilco (The Album) (2009)
- The Whole Love (2011)
- Star Wars (2015)
- Schmilco (2016)
- Ode to Joy (2019)
with Billy Bragg:
- Mermaid Avenue (1998)
- Mermaid Avenue Vol. II (2000)
- Mermaid Avenue: The Complete Sessions (2012), which includes both of the above plus the previously unreleased Vol. III
- Man in the Sand (1999)
- I Am Trying to Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco (2002)
- Ashes of American Flags (2009)
A Trope Is Born:
- Album Title Drop: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot in "Poor Places", A Ghost Is Born in "Theologians".
- Animated Music Video: The music video for "Dawned on Me", featuring none other than Popeye and the band itself.
- The Band Minus the Face: While Wilco's face Jeff Tweedy has never left the band, the very first incarnation of Wilco was just the final line-up of Uncle Tupelo, except without lead singer/guitarist Jay Farrar.
- Big Rock Ending: "I Got You (At the End of the Century)" ends with one of these... until Jeff Tweedy starts playing a different guitar riff, with the band continuing for another 45 seconds.
- Curse Cut Short: "Monday" ends with a shouted "Son of a...!"
- Digital Piracy Is Okay: They encourage recording of their live shows.
- Drone of Dread: "Less Than You Think"
- Epic Rocking: Particularly on A Ghost Is Born and The Whole Love. "Art of Almost" clocks in at seven minutes, while two songs from Ghost are ten minutes and fifteen respectively ("Spiders" and "Less Than You Think"). Subverted with "One Sunday Morning", which, at 12 minutes, is certainly epic, but is almost entirely acoustic, and "Less Than You Think", which contains about three minutes of acoustic piano and vocals, followed by twelve minutes of feedback.
- Sky Blue Sky has "Impossible Germany", which isn't as long as the other examples, but is a more conventional form of Epic Rocking due to a guitar solo occupying its last several minutes.
- Generation Xerox: Tweedy's son Spencer is a talented musician in his own right.
- Harmless Electrocution: The comic panels on the cover of Schmilco depict a man using himself as an electrical conduit to power a record player for a young girl to listen to. It's not exactly harmless, as seen by the nosebleed he gets, but since the music continues to play and the girl doesn't seem bothered by it, we can infer that it wasn't deadly.
- Heavy Meta: "Heavy Metal Drummer". Subverted in that it's not a heavy metal song.
- "Wilco (The Song)" probably counts too, due to being self-referential.
- Hidden Track: The original CD version of Summerteeth featured a 23 second gap after "In a Future Age", followed by two hidden tracks: "Candyfloss" and a remix of "A Shot in the Arm". The gap (later dubbed "23 Seconds of Silence") and both hidden tracks were later made visible on download and streaming services.
- Just a Kid: "Just a Kid", obviously, which fits the theme of the movie it was made for, The Spongebob Squarepants Movie.
- Kids Rock: "Just a Kid" features backup vocals from The Blisters, a pre-pubescent rock band which featured Jeff's son Spencer Tweedy (who was 8 years old at the time) as their drummer.
- Last Note Nightmare: Several tracks on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost Is Born degenerate into white noise at the end.
- "Ashes of American Flags" combines this with Fading into the Next Song, as warped snippets of the piano from "Heavy Metal Drummer" can be heard near the end of it.
- "Poor Places" actually includes an Album Title Drop in the middle of its concluding noise freakout.
- "Less Than You Think" might be the most notorious example, tacking upwards of ten minutes of hellish noise onto the end of an otherwise soft and unassuming acoustic song. Might also be a case of Exactly What It Says on the Tin, since the actual song ends less than a third of the way into the track.
- Lighter and Softer: Sky Blue Sky was noticeably more relaxed and soft than its predecessors, which definitely had their quieter and sparser songs, but were much more experimental and noisy overall. Schmilco seems to also follow in this vein, coming on the heels of Star Wars.
- Likes Older Women: Tweedy's wife is almost exactly ten years older than him.
- Live Album: Kicking Television
- Lyrical Cold Open: Happens on a few occasions, including "Pick Up the Change", "The Joke Explained", "Let's Not Get Carried Away", "Capitol City", and "What's the World Got in Store".
- Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: Their work mostly spans from 1-4, occasionally going into a five with hard-rock influenced songs like "Random Name Generator" or "Let's Not Get Carried Away". Some of the songs on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost is Born contain sections of feedback and static that bring the otherwise gentle songs up to a 9 or 10.
- Nonindicative Name: Invoked with the cover and name of their album Star Wars, as a painting of a cat doesn't match up with Star Wars.
- Not Christian Rock: "Christ for President", "Airline to Heaven"
- Perishing Indie Rock Voice: Prevalent on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, especially in "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart".
- Posthumous Collaboration: The Mermaid Avenue project.
- Precision F-Strike"I wonder why we listen to poets when nobody gives a fuck."—Ashes Of American Flags
- Protest Song: As you might suspect from the Guthrie/Bragg connection, the Mermaid Avenue albums have a few of these: "Christ for President", "The Unwelcome Guest", "All You Fascists", etc.
- Revolving Door Band: Tweedy and bassist John Stirratt have been the only constants in Wilco's two-decade-plus history, with multiple members entering and leaving the band until 2004.
- Rockumentary: Man in the Sand is about Wilco's collaboration with Billy Bragg on the Mermaid Avenue project, while I Am Trying to Break Your Heart chronicles the making of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and the tensions that led to Jay Bennett's departure from the band.
- Sampling: The British female voice repeating the phrase "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" from "Poor Places" is sampled from a recording of a numbers station that was featured on a compilation of shortwave radio recordings called The Conet Project, which Jeff Tweedy listened to multiple times prior to recording the album. The sample prompted the compilation's record label, Irdial-Discs, to sue the band; the band decided to pay royalties and settle out of court.
- Self-Titled Album: Wilco (The Album), which contains the song "Wilco (The Song)".
- "Sesame Street" Cred: They contributed "Just a Kid" to the soundtrack of The Spongebob Squarepants Movie.
- Shout-Out: Being There, to the film of the same name.
- Solo Side Project: Jeff Tweedy formed a side project with his son Spencer (a drummer) called Tweedy, releasing one album, Sukierae. Additionally, Jeff has released Together At Last (an album made up of solo acoustic reinterpretations of his old material), and three solo albums' worth of original material, WARM, WARMER, and Love is the King.
- John Stirratt founded a side project band with Pat Sansone in 1999, called The Autumn Defense. The group was founded five years before Pat Sansone became a Wilco member.
- Glenn Kotche has released five albums' worth of original material, mostly consisting of abstract drum and/or percussion compositions.
- Welcome to the Big City: "Capitol City" describes the strain that one person's move to the big city puts on a relationship, due to the other person not being likely to enjoy life there.
- Word Salad Lyrics: According to Tweedy himself, the lyrics to "Born Alone" were inspired by picking out random words from a book of 19th-century American poetry.
- Many of Wilco's songs have bits and pieces of this. Take the opening lyrics to "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart":I am an American aquarium drinker
I assassin down the avenue
- "Hoodoo Voodoo" from the first Mermaid Avenue album - Woody Guthrie wrote the lyrics as pure Word-Salad Humor to entertain his kids, but the Billy Bragg and Wilco version turns them more into playful psychedelia.
- Many of Wilco's songs have bits and pieces of this. Take the opening lyrics to "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart":
- Word Schmord: Their 2016 album is titled Schmilco.