With last year's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Jeff Tweedy led Wilco into less-tone/more-drone terrain, determined, it seems, to record the weirdest folk songs of all time. Jim O'Rourke, on the other hand, has pared down his avant-eclectic sound in recent years, often opting for more traditional rock-guitar diatribes and sneering vocal jabs (see 2001's "Therefore, I Am": "Sorry, but I've found someone new/To spend time instead on you/I spend it with me"). So, rounded out by new Wilco drummer and O'Rourke alum Glenn Kotche as a bridge over any remaining stylistic disparities, the trio known as Loose Fur is born. The collaboration is not full of any surprises, be they in aesthetic or quality of material: Loose Fur's self-titled debut six-track full-length is fantastic and expansive and full of elliptical, collapsing guitars and elusive melodies and esoteric lyrics.
The problem: Loose Fur never really gains its own voice. The album is more a patchwork than its own flowing whole, a cut-and-paste affair that, at any given time, might call for a classic Tweedy riff or a brisk O'Rourke acoustic strum or a YHF-style outro that spirals into a chaos of torrential guitars and quickening tribal rhythms. There are, however, a handful of moments where the trio does begin to chance on something their own, showing promise for the future. Album closer "Chinese Apple" is one of those bright spots; Tweedy's low groan lightens a bit as the song builds around some gorgeous organic acoustic strums, with a "Radio Cure"-esque thump propelling it toward a gorgeous rapid-fire middle section. Another flash of promise: "You Were Wrong," a passive-aggressive shrug-off anthem injected with bitter regret and dirty bass, the album's shortest song at three-and-a-half minutes. The rest is up in the air--"Elegant Transaction" and the last minutes of "So Long" sound like standard O'Rourke, and "Laminated Cat" is a certified Wilco castoff (demoed for YHF as "Not for the Season"). Regardless, it's hard to label Loose Fur's first collection of songs as inessential when they're so damn good.