My fellow Seattleite Scott McCaughey has always been a busy guy. He’s been making music with his original band, the Young Fresh Fellows, since 1983. They Might Be Giants were big fans of YFF, mentioned them in their own song lyrics, and took them on tour. As an outlet for songs not recorded by YFF, McCaughey began the collective Minus 5. Fellow Emerald City residents Peter Buck, Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer all lent their talents to an EP issued by TMBG’s label, Hello Records. McCaughey also collaborated with Peter Buck on a few R.E.M. records and also his instrumental collective, Tuatara. Minus 5 is the project that got the most attention however with its 2003 album, Down with Wilco. What some people originally took as a slight to the famous band was really a way of saying they `dug’ Wilco and were, in fact, collaborating with the group on the album. McCaughey’s Beatles tinged and alt-country-leaning sound received high praise and a large following.
Enter At the Organ, an EP from Minus 5 that consists of a few songs from the Down with Wilco sessions that didn’t make the cut and other odds and ends. Usually, tracks that are ditched from an album are ditched for the simple fact that they are just not good enough. Sure, there are a myriad of other reasons, but for the most part, outtakes are a quality issue. Not so with the songs on At the Organ. From the short post punk glory of “Lyrical Stance” to the sonic weirdness of “One More Bottle to Go,” the EP is more of the same genius found on its predecessor. “Hotel Senator” and “Film of the Movie” are amazingly written songs, and strangely enough, as they are not some of the collaborations with Wilco, sound the most like Tweedy’s band.
McCaughey and his collaborators also redo “The Town that Lost Its Groove Supply,” making it more of a rock version, dubbing it the “Seattle Version.” A video for the song also appears on the disc, partly created by former Replacement Chris Mars. As an added historical note, the version of “The Days of Wine and Booze” that appears on the EP was one recorded by McCaughey and Tweedy on September 11, 2001. There isn’t really any aspect of the song that gives away the temperament in the studio at the time, unlike Tweedy’s “Be Not So Fearful” cover that appears in the documentary I am Trying to Break Your Heart. Recording began on September 10th for Down With Wilco which one would think would heavily impress itself upon the album, but the evidence is merely substantial. Only the chaotic mess that is “One More Bottle to Go” somewhat resembles the emotional turmoil going through the hearts and minds of the musicians.
Regardless, At the Organ is an extremely enjoyable EP, much like its big brother, Down with Wilco. Initiates of the Scott McCaughey fan club will already have the EP on their wish lists this year, but for those who haven’t yet experienced the great songwriting talent of the curly-haired, bearded Young Fresh Fellow, do yourself a favor and pick up both the album and the EP. For a guy who has been making music for over twenty years, he sure hasn’t missed a beat.
Minus 5- Down With Wilco
Wilco- A Ghost is Born