Jim O’Rourke and Jeff Tweedy have an interesting relationship. First, O’Rourke added “sonic textures” to Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, incorporating some interesting ambience to the Chicago band’s rootsy sound. Then, while Reprise was sitting on that album, rather than releasing it, Tweedy donated some rock ‘n’ roll guitar riffage to O’Rourke’s otherwise charming and baroque, though disturbing and offbeat Insignificance album.
The latest project between these avant-garde characters is Loose Fur, which also features Wilco drummer Glenn Kotchke.
Before I get into the album, I want to clarify how odd these dudes are. Tweedy has written songs about growing Bob Dylan’s beard, offered to light 20-foot bongs for audience members, and once said the relationship between a pre-teen and Britney Spears’ music can be beautiful. Okay.
O’Rourke, on the other hand, will drop $300 on a rare, experimental seven-inch and releases albums with covers depicting little cartoon men in bondage. Yeah.
And Kotche, well, if you’ve ever seen Wilco live, you’d know that he likes to scrape shit.
So, when the three of them come together, it’s nothing less than bizarre. The first song on Loose Fur’s self-titled album, “Laminated Cat,” evolved from a Wilco song called “Not for the Season.” The song begins with a few layers of percussion and Tweedy’s voice, but slowly builds, adding some repetitive guitar riffs and wah-wah heavy feedback effects. The song gets more improvisational at the end, but without wandering aimlessly into hippie jam band meandering.
“Elegant Transaction” is noticeably dominated by O’Rourke’s vocals and songwriting. Of the six songs on the album, this is the one that would sound most at home on one of his solo records.
“So Long,” however, is a truly bizarre composition. It begins with O’Rourke chanting over some atonal guitar squawks, eventually transitioning into a Weill-ian piano melody. The song twists and turns back into the atonal mess it began as, just before returning to identifiable melodies.
The closest thing to a hit single here is “You Were Wrong,” a catchy but subdued three-minute song — a rarity on an album of loosely constructed seven-minute psych-folk jams. “Wrong” comes off sounding more like the evil twin of “Jesus, Etc.” from Foxtrot. The tempo is about the same, yet the melody is more groove-oriented and a little more menacing.
An instrumental, “Liquidation Totale,” follows, perhaps needlessly so, though it does serve as a long interlude between “You Were Wrong” and “Chinese Apple,” the album’s closer.
“Apple” is the strongest song on the album, mainly because it’s the most collaborative sounding piece on here. While each song tends to sound as if either Tweedy or O’Rourke dominates it, this song combines their strengths to make a fun, challenging folk-rock epic.
Loose Fur may not appeal to anyone who hasn’t picked up Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or Insignificance yet, but for those of us who have, it’s a sweet, beautiful slice of music from three talented oddballs.
As I said before, the relationship between O’Rourke and Tweedy is interesting. They just might be crazy, but the music they make together is beautiful.
Jim O’Rourke – Insignificance
Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Tortoise – Millions Now Living Will Never Die
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.