February 7, 2003

Foxtrot's Devilish Twin

Print More

If Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot controversy teaches us anything, it is how dreadfully conservative the music industry can be. I hadn’t listened to YHF prior to its official release, but having heard that Reprise refused to put it out due to inaccessibility I imagined Foxtrot to be much stranger than it turned out to be. I would even say that YHF is Wilco’s most commercially accessible record. Sure there were some tweaks of electronic knobs and some unusual percussion, but these fit so seamlessly into the basic pop song beneath, as to never be jarring. Based on the rumors I imagined YHF would pin melody right up along dissonance and sound akin to what materialized as Loose Fur — the side-project emerging from the YHF stagnation made-up of Jeff Tweedy, Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche, and musician extraordinaire Jim O’Rourke.

Loose Fur divides fairly neatly into Jeff songs and Jim songs, each doing his best to influence the other’s songs and Kotche trying to find a notch for his percussive practices. O’Rourke’s influence is slightly more blatant, possibly having to do with his producing the album. The songs O’Rourke sings feel like a continuation of his charming Insignificance record: layers of beautiful melodies, acerbic lyrics to make the romantic cringe (“if I said I love you/I was talking to myself”), and a distinctly O’Rourkian sense of pacing. Each song on the album (ranging between six and nine minutes) has time to develop and conclude properly. This is one of O’Rourke’s many virtues, a disregard for the hurried nature of the pop song, a disregard that suits his musical projects. “So Long”, one of the finest tracks on the record, proves that brevity is not necessarily the pop instrumentalist’s wit. The song begins with O’Rourke playing gentle Nick Drake arpeggios and softly singing a simple melody. However, the melody is constantly undermined by awkward noises coming from other corners. Distorted guitar fills, alarm clocks, Kotche’s randomly splashing cymbals — the collection of noises is in a perpetual struggle with the irresistible folk melody beneath. By the chorus, the melody wins out for a lush captivating segment only to give room to more dissonance. It is the kind of song that works only because it isn’t rushed.

The competition for dominance between melody and dissonance is especially prominent in the Tweedy-sung material. Songs like “Laminated Cat” and “Chinese Apple” (which steals a verse from “Heavy Metal Drummer”) are driven by a strong folk melody in the vocal that is constantly tested through combination with either sparse yet commanding percussion or layers upon layers of melody courtesy of O’Rourke. Those that know O’Rourke’s Insignificance and Wilco’s YHF will have their expectations met both by the quality and sound of Loose Fur. The record is particularly fascinating because it offers a clear look at the bartering of influence between three established musicians. Though a bit brief (six songs clocking in at 40 minutes), Loose Fur is a wonderfully subtle and captivating record.

Archived article by Maxim Pozdorovkin