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   Monday, December 09, 2002  
Anyone who's caught a Wilco show this past year will likely have heard a song seemingly called Unified theory of everything, a great title except that it isn't. The title, that is. The song turns up on a release by Loose Fur, a YankeeHotelFoxtrot spin-off featuring Jim O'Rourke with Jeff Tweedy & Glenn Kotche from Wilco, and is henceforth to be known as Laminated cat. Given some of the advance word about, this blog feared that such deliberate oddness/obscurity might be the motif for all that followed, musos jumping out of the box and getting all experimental. So is this a wilfully difficult record awash with disonance and abstraction? A shameless shot at being Wire magazine's album of the year 2003? reallyrather is happy to report that it most definitely is NOT! There are tunes, discernable and lovely; for anyone who enjoyed YHF there is little to fear and plenty to enjoy across these 6 tracks and 39 minutes.
The aforesaid Laminated cat kicks things off in delicious style, fizzling electronic sounds and simple tom-tom percussion playing under and around Tweedy's vocal and guitar. It's one of a pair here that could've come straight off YHF, the other being You were wrong, a airy piano-led thing with something Beatle-y (c.Magical Mystery Tour) about it. Track 2 Elegant transaction feels a bit like a Joni M./Donald Fagen collaboration, with added banjo. Really quite pretty; Nyman/Reich-like guitar and piano patterns gradually build, layering lots of plinking and plonking over Kotche's muted but propulsive rhythm. So far, so easy.
Just about the only 'difficult' number in the set is So long, essentially a simple folk-pop guitar thing not dissimilar from the stuff to be found on the new Shearwater album, but which for the first four minutes or so has Tweedy scribbling across it with a wiry tangle of electric guitar, and Kotche percussing all over the shop. Is such juxtaposing of apparently contrary elements (cf. the aforesaid 'Cat') to be regarded as 'experimental', as Art? Is head-to-one-side, propped chin resting between first finger and thumb the correct position to adopt? Whatever, it's nice(r) when it calms down, the guitar gets a bit more into line and a lovely medium-slow refrain builds. (The only other sonic challenge comes in the crash landing of the otherwise melodic instrumental Liquiation totale.) Final track Chinese apple is how the recent Leo Kottke+bloke from Phish collaboration might've sounded, but unfortunately doesn't. Glistening acoustic picking and a light percussive shuffle counterpose Tweedy's deadweight vocal; a storm threatens midway but soon dissolves back into the melody. Again, unarguably pretty.
And then it's gone. As suggested, any fan of YHF will at least want to hear this and, most probably, own it. And if you find Tweedy & co. are taking you places, it needn't stop there. You might check out something like Goldfish by k. (aka Karla Shickele) from earlier this year which in places covers not entirely dissimilar ground (tho' it does include strident piano & vocals - 'musical Chinese water torture,' according to this review). And you should definitely buy the new Tracker album Polk because, well, it's just great...

''It's real quiet, kind of folk-influenced, a cross between Nick Drake and JJ Cale," says singer-songwriter Sam Beam aka Iron and Wine of his Subpop debut, The creek drank the cradle. 'A stunning debut and one of the best records of 2002,' reckoned AMG; 'hypnotic beauty and sparkling melody,' said The Onion. See&hear for yourself courtesy of an extended live set & chat last week over at KCRW Santa Monica...

Meanwhile, The Mendoza Line promise to briefly brighten London's January when they bring their wonky indie-twang-pop to the Arts Cafe on Jan 7 and The Borderline the night after...

..and talking of bands from Athens, GA., for anyone wishing Mazzy Star was still around and that they'd teamed up with the Sundays and Bright Eyes and the Cranberries even, look no further than Star lit sunken ship, new from Lovers. Comfortingly non-groundbreaking, Carolyn Berk leads her ensemble thru some woozy, yearning singin' and strummin' (there's an e-bow and banjo in the mix as well). With titles like Peppermint, Winter takes a lover and I believe in outer space this could be bracketed (like some movies) as more appealing to women. It's best moments are indeed lovely, dreamily introspective confections and it surely never harms to get in touch with your feminine side once in a while, eh chaps?
   posted by SMc at 11:11 AM |