Loose Fur: Loose Fur (Drag City)

Although not immediately accessible to the more impatient listener, Loose Fur has some fascinating songs.

Okay, those of you who liked some of the more unconventional/adventurous moments on Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, form a group on the right; those of you who thought the album was overrated and prefer earlier Wilco, to the left. You on the left, exit quietly, and go listen to Summer Teeth. Now, the rest of you, let’s talk about Loose Fur, the new collaboration between Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy and Glenn Kotche and sound wizard/current Sonic Youth member Jim O’Rourke.

The sessions for this album took place in the wake of the chemistry that developed between Tweedy and O’Rourke when the latter was asked to mix YHF in its concluding stages. From casual jams and unforced songwriting sessions, enough material emerged for probably several different albums, and this 39-minute, six-track platter is the first. It’s an eclectic surprise. Although not immediately accessible to the more impatient listener, Loose Fur has some fascinating songs. “Laminated Cat” and “You Were Wrong” feature vocals and lyrics by Tweedy, and both would have sounded right at home on YHF. The former, with its insistently thumping percussion and drifty bits of guitar feedback, wisely puts Tweedy’s vocal way up front and builds the sonic layering up until you’re hypnotized by the darn thing.

“You Were Wrong” is even better, a brilliantly produced song with crisp bass and drums and slightly skewed, psychedelic guitar chordings worthy of ’67-era Beatles. The track illustrates how sharp Tweedy’s instincts were to mix up his style with O’Rourke’s. Jim, of course, has made some tremendous solo albums, like the Drag City releases Eureka and Insignificance. O’Rourke plays fluid, shimmering, Fahey-esque guitar, writes odd lyrics, and arranges things to the high heavens. He certainly does that on “Elegant Transaction” (listen to the combination of the snappy drums, banjo, mellow keyboards, and, indeed, elegant guitar for the concluding four-minute instrumental section of this pleasant track). And speaking of instrumentals, “Liquidation Total” is just that: a Tortoise-like slice of well-paced, richly textured aural bliss that is a testament not only to the focused interplay of the musicians involved, but also to the exciting potential of what they can create when spirits are running high, like they evidently were here.

A sleepy-voiced Tweedy concludes things with “Chinese Apple,” another Wilco-type track which, although perhaps a minute or two too long, is still alluring. “Unlock my body/And move myself at last/Into warm liquid/Flowing blowing glass…am I waiting for/the uncovering of simple paths…” sings Tweedy, and one can only marvel at his prodigious output (yet another album is due out this spring) over the past year. Tweedy has certainly “unlocked” his creativity with the direction he took on Yankee and continues with O’Rourke in this interesting and spontaneous effort.

Loose Fur may be “loose” in its attitude and arrangements, but the musicians here are proving the value of their instincts and chemistry, creating stellar modern rock that sounds just dandy, through each of its intricate layers.

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