By far the most unexpectedly striking album of 2002, Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was hailed practically across the board as the record of the year. The unexpected twist on Jeff Tweedy and company’s alt-country genre had incorporated a healthy dose of sonic dissonance, background electronics and disorder into their usual shifts between pop and balladry and rock-outs.
This process was documented in last summer’s documentary I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, as was Tweedy’s friendship with musician/producer Jim O’Rourke. Turns out that during the downtime while recording Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Tweedy and O’Rourke, along with drummer extraordinaire Glenn Kotche, were up to their own shenanigans producing the excellent Loose Fur record.
The album — in fact, each song itself — has the tone-shifts that are present throughout the Wilco record. Opener “Laminated Cat” is the strongest echo of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, composed of a repetitious riff surrounded by dissonant guitars, then chased by Tweedy’s vocals. Sonic and dissonant, it is perhaps the standout track on the six-song EP, a jam that reflects the combinations strongest elements.
If not here, then perhaps on “So Long,” where it feels like the Black Heart Procession stumbled across Sonic Youth’s meticulously tuned guitars, then gave up and went back to their own. The vocals throughout the EP predominantly fall into Tweedy’s court, his cozy voice and smart lyrics contrasting the clutter as he sings about “Candy left over from Halloween/A unified theory on everything.” As seen on YHF and exemplified with this project, Tweedy’s vocals and lyrics are growing stronger with each release. Closer “Chinese Apple,” another standout track, is a sweet acoustic lullaby and a perfect closer for a sharp debut from this collective.
Call it a footnote, a companion piece to a landmark record, or an inevitable meeting of two of the strongest musical minds currently recording. As solid as Loose Fur is, unfamiliar listeners should pick up Yankee Hotel Foxtrot first. Yet coming 10 months later, this has been released at the perfect time, complimenting the previous effort and enticing fans until Wilco’s follow-up.