Bands as adored as Rilo Kiley and Wilco have a hard time relaxing. Mostly there's the microscopic level of scrutiny from their adoring fans, who expect answers to the universe in every line. It's hard to breathe on a pedestal sometimes. And remember, these people spend nearly every day in close quarters together, either in the studio or on the road, and sometimes can't stand the sight of one another. Enter solo albums and shadow bands, helping Rilo's Jenny Lewis and Blake Sennett further their Saddle Creek soap opera. The two downplay being former lovers everywhere except in their songs, then they're like Lindsey and Stevie without the scarves and piles of blow. "You did me good," charges Sennett's Elected amid the heavily orchestrated strummings of Sun, Sun, Sun; the double meaning's obvious since two songs earlier he's reminiscing about making love in the van. Sennett's lilting accusations resemble buddy Conor Oberst minus the anti-Bush venom, but the homogeneous honesty, resplendent on "Not Going Home," ultimately grows tedious. "I'm in love with the trick, so pull another rabbit out of your hat," counters Lewis, though to be fair, romance runs a distant fourth on Rabbit Fur Coat to her issues with herself, her mother, and the Man Upstairs: "I have hundreds at the track, but I'm not betting on the afterlife." Using acoustic country gospel to explore the doubt-ridden downside of faith and her weakness to "my own destructive appetites," Lewis enlists Nashville twins Chandra and Leigh Watson to soften her sharp words with sparkling harmonies. She's "Born Secular," perhaps, but dreaming of the sweet by-and-by all the same. (Oberst, by the way, joins Lewis, M. Ward, and Ben Gibbard for an earnest indie remake of the Traveling Wilburys' "Handle With Care," a studio lark destined for a long KEXP shelf life.) Wilco, whose recent live album, Kicking Television, was an audible sigh of relief after the mental torture of birthing Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost Is Born, belongs to a much different head space. Leader Jeff Tweedy, drummer Glenn Kotche, and Tortoise/Sonic Youth savant Jim O'Rourke use Loose Fur to do nothing more than, as they say, "jam"; Born Again in the USA is playful, proggy, and built for black lights. Punchy offerings "Hey Chicken," "Thou Shalt Wilt," and Beatles-like "Stupid as the Sun" hold up best, but the ideas are clearly fermenting on eight-minute experiment "Wreckroom" as well. Kotche's percussion-only solo album, Mobile, demonstrates even more explicitly with modernist sound sculptures that artists are rarely more inspired than when creating for themselves alone.
(Loose Fur; Kotche)
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