Sky blue sky: a hidden classic

Sky blue sky is an alternative rock album that was released in the early 2000’s. It is a very dynamic album with a bold and relentless sound.

Graphic by (Tillie Szwartz ’25/staff)

When you search an artist on Spotify or Apple Music, the apps will showcase the most popular songs or “essential albums.” These recommendations are useful, but limiting. Too often than not does the algorithm bury a band’s most interesting music. A great example of this is Wilco, the indie band that defined the early 2000s. Apple and Spotify recommend Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, the band’s most popular album and biggest commercial success. It won numerous awards, including a nomination for album of the year. But Wilco’s best album, Sky Blue Sky, is unfortunately nowhere to be found on the main search results on the pages of Spotify. 

Jeff Tweedy, Wilco’s lead singer and rhythm guitarist, was not content to keep producing albums like Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, even if some critics at the time said it was their magnum opus. Instead, he reinvented the band with a totally new sound. Tweedy changed the lineup of the band, adding keyboard player Pat Sansone and the virtuosic electric guitarist Nels Cline. Nels Cline  created some of the band’s strongest, most complex and intricate instrumentals. 

The album kicks off with “Either Way,” in which Cline’s majestic lead guitar is full of soft arpeggiated chords that add to the ambiance and sonic complexity, for which the album strives. “Either Way” is followed by the just-as-dreamy “You Are My Face,” the lyrics of which take the intimate perspective of Tweedy as he tackles themes of depression, social class, and family. These lyrics work beautifully with the heavy rhythm section of the  second half of the song, making the track a big stand out on the album. The next song, “Impossible Germany,” is the album’s best. Here, Tweedy talks about a relationship where he was putting in more effort than he was getting  back from his partner. The lyrics pair words and phrases  that conflict, showing how disconnected it is. The guitar solo in the last third of the song compares to the well known solos in The Eagles’ “Hotel California” and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The pace intensifies as we get to the heart of the album with the song “Side with the Seeds,” which seems to fit seamlessly with the established sonic tones of the album until the last minute when Cline once again shows off his incredible skills with another fantastic solo. However, unlike the one in “Impossible Germany,” this solo is more aggressive, full of intense riffs that feel like he’s waging an epic battle, and comes in stark contrast to the more mellow somber sounds of many other tracks on this album. Some of the other worthwhile tracks on Sky Blue Sky are “‘Please be Patient with Me,” a guitar-heavy beautifully orchestrated masterwork, and “On and On and On.” This piece is  one of the most creative pop-rock songs, with its dissonant piano chords and Tweedy’s gentle vocals. 

Sky Blue Sky remains a hidden gem in the sea of indie pop-rock that dominated the early 2000s. It is bold, and relentless; there is nothing quite like it.  Despite the lack of commercial success, Sky Blue Sky should be considered a great triumph in the music space for its truly novel sound. There are many great sounds out there and Sky Blue Sky is an example of what we might be missing out on.

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