Back when I had a twitter, my bio read “refuse to use the term dad rock.” Now here I am, years later, writing an entire piece about it. Ah, how we evolve.

What is dad rock? Is it a bad thing?

Every time I hear the phrase ‘dad rock’ I can only picture my father, in whatever Ford pickup (usually diesel) he had on any given year, playing his favorite CD over and over again as we travelled down familiar country roads – Don Henley’s Building The Perfect Beast. 

Under the umbrella term, several albums come to mind when it comes to traditional dad rock. A few examples:

  1. Bruce Springsteen – Born In The U.S.A.
  2. Creedence Clearwater Revival – Cosmo’s Factory
  3. Anything from Bob Seger…

(Just think of any classic rock record your dad had on repeat when you were growing up and there’s  your example.)

Dad rock = comfortable rock.

It resembles that one overly-worn flannel shirt that hangs in your closet, the one that fits just right and goes with anything. It is the first beer in the evening after a long day at work. It is the feeling you experience after being away from home, finally returning and seeing the house you grew up in smiling back at you.

It is not music meant for dads, but it is the music we all get overly-acquainted with and ingrains itself within our identities. Dad or not, we all listen to music that soothes our souls. 

Now that my generation is breeding, we have new dads. This means we have new dad rock, of course.

Our best example? Wilco.

Although Wilco’s lineup has changed over the years, the band has managed to produce 10 solid records. Jeff Tweedy is the engine of this dad rock machine, creating songs of which are expertly melodic.

Let’s break Wilco down by their discography…

For the Uncle Tupelo lovers out there, I’d reckon Wilco’s first two records are the favorites among many a fan.

A.M. and Being There (1995 & 1996) are unique against Wilco’s later releases. Both albums meld alt-country and rock in heavenly ways, resulting in a sound unlike any other band of the ’90s. What is more soothing to the soul than an alt-country record crafted with spunk-y instrumentation and light-hearted lyrics sung by the flowing milk & honey vocals of Jeff Tweedy? I would argue nada.

In A.M. the listener is introduced to Tweedy’s quirky, carefree lyrics:

Hey, wake up, your eyes weren’t open wide
For the last couple of miles you’ve been swerving from side to side
You’re gonna make me spill my beer,
If you don’t learn how to steer
Passenger side, passenger side,
I don’t like riding on the passenger side – “Passenger Side”
In Being There, Wilco truly begins to experiment with being their own band, instead of following the familiar song structuring of Tweedy’s previous band Uncle Tupelo. I imagine Tweedy to have woke up one morning expressing, “Hey, I am in my own band now! Let’s see what these fuckers I call bandmates can do…” More psychedelic and surreal than A.M., with a double-LP length, it is no wonder this record is on several “Must Hear Before You Die” and “Best Albums of The 1990’s” Lists.

JUST LISTEN TO HOW BEAUTIFUL THIS SONG IS, FOLKS.

At this point, Wilco could have stuck with alt-country styling, since it proved the band success and critical acclaim – but instead Wilco chose to evolve their sound yet again (and again and again). This is precisely why Wilco has never let a fan down; they make a record that captures whatever sentiments are happening in real time with the band. Fans can map Tweedy’s own evolution based off Wilco’s output.

OH SHIT. Wilco can make a great pop record too.

Recorded heavily in the studio as opposed to recorded-in-one-day like their previous releases, Summerteeth is Wilco at their shiniest. The album name says it all – it’s Wilco showing off their musical pearly whites. Inspired heavily by the literature Tweedy was reading at the time, Summerteeth has a ton of cool lyrics running through it.  I mean, can you think of a track opener more awesome than “Via Chicago”? “I dreamed about killing you again last night and it felt alright to me..”. Somehow I doubt it.

From the opener we know this in an entirely different Wilco record. Yet, by gawd, it is still fantastic.

 

Where can Wilco possibly go from here? Already giving the world the comfort of A.M., the experimental beast Being There and a pop record suitably dad rock-y enough to stand beside, say, Springsteen’s Born To Run?

They make the greatest record of the the 2000’s. That’s what.

 

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot would be my dad’s Building The Perfect Beast had he been born a Gen Y. But then he would not be my dad…  Weird. I digress. I don’t see the point in writing much about how exceptional Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is, because just like The Tao, when we try describe it, it loses what it is that makes The Tao, The Tao. So i’ll just let the music speak for itself:

 

2004’s A Ghost Is Born is similar to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot in a lot of ways, however we lose guitarist Jay Bennett, forcing Tweedy to become lead guitarist. (It isn’t until Wilco’s next release, Sky Blue Sky, that we see Nels Cline join the mix. BY LORD WHAT A GUITARIST.)

Oddly enough, when I think of Wilco albums, this is the one I oft forget about. I think it due to how convoluted it is. There are some great stand alone tracks, sure, but it doesn’t make it any less of a hot mess. In Tweedy’s memoir he mentions when he was writing the music to A Ghost Is Born he was suffering from intense migraines that would often get so terrible it led to vomiting spells. This can be represented in the repetitive sounds found in “Spiders (Kidsmoke)”, for example. Not to mention Tweedy went into rehab shortly before this was released, proving to me things were at a tipping point for Tweedy when making this record. It shows.

However with highlights such as “Handshake Drugs,” “Hummingbird” and “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” it’s no wonder Wilco got a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music. 

Over a decade after Wilco’s conception, they do something incredibly hard to do. The band surprises the hell out of us all with 2007’s Sky Blue Sky.

First, let me say how truly shocked I am that this album received such low ratings and is regarded to a lot of fans as – passable. Ouch. Personally, this is one of my favorite Wilco records. Due to Nels Cline joining the band as lead guitarist, he makes Sky Blue Sky incredibly atmospheric. The birds on the album cover make all the more sense after listening to the mesmerizing guitar work dripping all over this thing. You sincerely do feel like a bird in flight, each cloud is another guitar riff passing by ever so gingerly.

The epitome of Wilco’s dad rock = Sky Blue Sky.

 

Wilco went on to release several more albums following this, each one great in its own way, but the bands’ best remain in the past. 

Jeff Tweedy has also released his own material as well as forming a band with his two talented sons, respectively band-named Tweedy. Every piece of music Jeff Tweedy emits into the music world is touching and soothes my soul.

Really, Jeff Tweedy is Gen Y’s Bob Seger. Only better.

Wilco is one of those bands that I can connect emotionally strongly to with any particular album of theirs during my own evolution. For instance, Sky Blue Sky filled my summers and became the soundtrack of an early 20-something Haley, laying out in the sun with a giant mason jar of sweet tea beside me. Now, in my mid-20s, A.M. is especially speaking to me. It is a high-spirited blast brimming with no real weight or heaviness. Feeling this may be the sweetest era of my existence – not married, no kids, living on my own – a record like A.M. shares the same attitude.

Thus, Wilco is my favorite millennial dad rock – and it probably is yours too.

 

Additionally – do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Jeff’s memoir. It’s funny and relatable as hell.


Podcast Discussing the Greatest Wilco Album Here