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