Spin Control

March 19, 2006


Loose Fur, "Born Again in the U.S.A." (Drag City) ***
Glenn Kotche, "Mobile" (Nonesuch) **

Chicago's alternative country-turned-art-rock heroes Wilco aren't scheduled to release the follow-up to "A Ghost Is Born," the 2004 album that stands as their most successful to date, until later this year. Meanwhile, we have these new offerings from guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Jeff Tweedy and drummer Glenn Kotche.

Loose Fur is the side-project trio featuring Tweedy, Kotche and guitarist Jim O'Rourke, whose production credits include Sonic Youth, Stereolab and, of course, Wilco. On their self-titled 2003 debut, there wasn't much reason to care, since the disc basically captured some sonic alchemists messing around in an avant-jazz, experimental-art-wank laboratory without unduly troubling themselves to craft actual songs.

This time, however, there's more of a '70s rock underpinning, with clattering cowbell grooves and good-time heavy-metal riffing, and an impressive set of bitingly sarcastic Tweedy lyrics surveying the sorry state of an America where everything is for sale ("The Ruling Class") and religion is employed as the opiate of the masses ("Thou Shalt Wilt").

These are still more sketches than finished songs, but "Born Again in the U.S.A." is nevertheless a solid effort that will appeal to fans of "A Ghost Is Born" and "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot." Despite the nods to Thin Lizzy, lovers of "Casino Queen" should probably avoid it -- and they should definitely skip "Mobile."

Kotche is an incredibly talented drummer devoted to stretching the capabilities of his instrument and redefining its role via cutting-edge electronics as well as primitive noisemakers, coloring the music as well as driving it.

In the context of Wilco, his playing is brilliant, and watching him perform his solo material can be revelatory. Listening to it isn't quite as satisfying, however, and "Mobile" is comparable to Brian Eno efforts such as "On Land" and "Thursday Afternoon," which are among the best ambient albums but which are ultimately background music nonetheless.

Jim DeRogatis