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Artist: Loose Fur

Album: Loose Fur

Label: Drag City

Review date: Mar. 24, 2003

Great Expectations...

On paper the idea of a super-group seems pretty unbeatable, right? You think, “I like Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, AND Roy Orbison. I’ll bet the Traveling Wilburys are pretty decent too!” And that’s precisely the problem – a lot of the time, the end result somehow seems like less than the sum of its parts. Maybe it’s a reticence to bring top shelf material to a side-group, or an unforeseen inability to mesh musically. Mind you, I’m not trying to pan any group made up of people more well-known for their respected projects. Without a doubt, any time a group of talented and exciting musicians comes together something intriguing is bound to pop up. I mean, even the DamnYankees had their bearable moments.

One would thus be forgiven for thinking that Loose Fur, a collaboration between Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy and Glenn Kotche and regular man-about-town Jim O’Rourke would be anything less than revelatory. After all, Wilco released a pretty nifty (if not a bit overblown) pop record in last year’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Mr. O’Rourke has released a string of great solo records for Drag City, become a member of Sonic Youth, collaborated with Pita and Fennesz for the ridiculously top-notch Fenn O’Berg records, and recorded enough bands to fill a section at record store. The trio’s self-titled effort for Drag City, however, ends up being a pretty decent record split evenly amongst the sounds of the contributors – plaintive, folky Americana-esque sounds mingling with spaced out background drones, a bit of eclectic improv, and inventive percussion. It’s exactly what you’d expect it would be…for better or worse.

“Laminated Cat” establishes the motif for the Tweedy-vocalized tracks on the record. Essentially, they’re a more hard-wrought extension of Wilco’s aesthetics with O’Rourke dropping in for some electronics or maybe a twinkling little piano line. Here, Tweedy works at extending a riff, playing circular progressions around the central idea while O’Rourke mucks around and conjures up keys and electronics – all with Kotche supplying a more low-key tribal rhythm. The disc’s second track, “Elegant Transaction”, sets the tone for the O’Rourke dominated material. Since both Jeff Tweedy and Glenn Kotche guested on 2001’s Insignificance, it’s no surprise to say that these tracks harken back to a more spacious version of the material previously explored. While the drums shift lazily underneath, intricate acoustic guitar figures are etched out as the track gradually builds to a gorgeously hazy climax – in all one of the brightest moments on the record.

“So Long”, however, can a feel a bit calculated and meandering. Essentially a collision between spare folk and acid-damaged improv, it bounces back and forth between the two before deciding to play the pretty hand – almost as if the more abstract moments were inserted as an afterthought and not allowed to roam on their own. “You Were Wrong”, on the other hand, is another pretty great moment on the album. It’s one of the shortest tracks here, but it’s also the most casual and laconic. This one is all Tweedy, gently strumming the acoustic and working some neat electric guitar figures while O’Rourke sits down at the piano for some complimentary keys – simple, subtle, and surprisingly effective.

“Liquidation Totale” is the only instrumental track here. This one finds the three heading in a vaguely post-rock direction, sending bits and pieces of Bad Timing off to intertwine with Wilco’s more hushed moments; toss in a banjo and blistering electric guitar solo and there you have it. Not bad at all, but yet something you feel the band could have easily outdone. “Chinese Apple” closes the album with some Fahey-esque acoustic guitar plucking that gradually wraps itself around brushed drums. It’s obviously more of an O’Rourke piece, but Tweedy’s tired, winsome vocals add color as it builds to another glorious burst of melodic cacophony.

Loose Fur is probably the easiest band you could ever try to describe: Wilco meets Jim O’Rourke. And the problem is the implications that come from those two names, both of which have been involved in some damn fine recordings over the past few years. While it is easy to conjure up loftier ideas as to the overall sound, unfortunately it just ends up being the basic one – accomplished, vaguely spacey rock and folk figures nestled alongside more abstract pieces. These three have made careers thus far out of transcending their own ideas and creations. But here, however, they seem a bit too comfortable with sitting back and almost going through the motions. Without a doubt there are quite a few moments on Loose Fur to enthrall diehard fans of anyone involved. And yet, when all is said and done, I’m still wanting more, wondering what else they could have done. Patches of brilliance scattered throughout make the remainder that much harder to take.

By Michael Crumsho

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