Wilco’s new album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, will be released next week. And if you buy it, you might help improve the future of recorded music.

Wilco is one of the few great bands that have emerged in the last ten years. Their first few recordings helped shape the “alt-country” genre, but in 1999 the band released Summerteeth, a genuine masterpiece – pop gems that had echoes of the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Van Morrison, and many others, but spun into a sound that was distinctive and new. (Listen to excerpts at Amazon.)

The band recorded Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and delivered it to Warner Bros. last year. It’s a stellar album; some critics feel it’s the best one yet, the one that will let Wilco break through to true stardom. This article details the events that led to the label rejecting the album and firing the band.

Instead of retiring defeated, Wilco allowed fans to download the album on the Internet. It spread like wildfire. Hundreds of thousands of copies have been downloaded and shared.

On April 23, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot will be released by another label. (After fierce bidding, ironically it was another division of Warner Bros. that got distribution rights.)

If the album doesn’t sell well, the music industry will hold it up as the poster child for their claims that free downloads are responsible for killing album sales.

But if it sells, despite having been released online, the industry could lose its favorite scapegoat–and have to focus attention on other explanations for the current listless state of CD sales. Maybe they’d have to back off from their incessant carping about piracy. Who knows? Maybe they’d even pay a teensy bit of attention to sponsoring good music.

So buy Wilco! You’ll like the album, and you’ll be doing some good for our future.

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