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|An exercise in expanding
Loose Fur (Drag City)
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
In 2001, Jeff Tweedy was at a crossroads. After
running through a buffet of studio tricks on Wilco's
Summerteeth, he faced a challenge that his fans, his
record company and even his band weren't sure he
could meet. Would he continue in the lush direction of
his last album? Return to the Tom Petty-ish rock that
had earned his cred? More importantly, could he ever
possibly make an album that lived up to critics'
The answer was yes. But it wasn't easy.
Everyone knows the story of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot by now. Jeff Tweedy brought Wilco into the studio, and after
hundreds of re-takes, re-mixes, and the firing of two long-standing members, the band had crafted their
masterpiece. And it was rejected by Reprise.
It also wound up on-line and in the hands of several important writers. They became the symbol of everything
that was right in music, a cause celebre against the corporate record industry. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was
eventually picked up, and rightfully became the best album of 2002.
But there's a significant chunk of the story missing, and it's Loose Fur.
After the initial demos for YHF were recorded in 2001, Tweedy met up and began jamming with Jim O'Rourke,
who was (and still is) one of the most inventive and respected post-classical experimental composers to
emerge in the 1990s, just as in-tune to John Lennon as he was John Cage. O'Rourke brought along his friend
Glenn Kotche, a meticulous, methodical, inventive drummer, and Loose Fur was born.
In Loose Fur, everyone got to stretch themselves in new directions. Tweedy began playing electric guitar
extensively for the first time in his career, twanging and reaching for notes that would make any classical teacher
cringe. Kotche adds his strange touches, the sounds of his home-made percussive instruments clanging just
when you least expect it. And O'Rourke holds it all together, playing a wide-range of instruments, producing and
singing with Tweedy, creating a surprisingly pleasing harmony.
But it should be noted: Jim O'Rourke is not a nob-twiddler for nob-twiddling's sake. He skims and seeks and
searches for just the right touch for a song. A de-tuned guitar, an off-key piano, or a simple vocal melody to
accent a key lyrical phrase. There are still room for mistakes and happy accidents on this record, but they're all in
the name of the song.
Tweedy's lyrics are just as introspective and obtuse as he has always been. In this new air of freedom, lines like
"You were wrong/to believe/in me" cut especially deep, while O'Rourke perfectly and oddly complements him on
different tracks when he sings "don't strike a conversation with a cigarette/like an old flame, burned out, and out
Through it all, you can hear seeds of both O'Rourke and Tweedy's later work. You hear the guitar noodle's of
Sonic Youth's Murray Street and minimalist effects of Wilco's A Ghost Is Born. And there's a good chance neither
of those albums would sound quite like they do without this album preceding it.
The resulting album is a perfect band document. Not only does it sound cohesive, daring and easing all at once,
it measures up to any Wilco album, not to mention O'Rourke's more song-based efforts. And everyone wound up
happy after this: Tweedy brought Kotche into Wilco and had the confidence to finish YHF, while O'Rourke went
back to work on his solo compositions as well as Sonic Youth. And two years later, to our delight, Loose Fur was
"Don't look at me, you won't find me there." And so O'Rourke and Tweedy sing on "So Long," and it probably says
more about this record for than I could ever dream of. Don't look for the countrified twang of early Wilco here.
Don't look for the drones of some minimalist experiment that O'Rourke has pioneered for so long, either. But do
look for this album in your favorite record store's racks. You won't be sorry, and, like Kotche, Tweedy and
O'Rourke, you'll never look back.