Loose Fur / Minus 5

Loose Fur (Drag City) / Down with Wilco (Yep Roc)

These tapes will not self-destruct, but, audiophiles, your mission -- should you choose to accept it -- is to listen to the self-titled Loose Fur debut and the new album from the Minus 5 and not for one moment forget that neither, technically, is a Wilco record (though both are spearheaded by Jeff Tweedy). Not proper follow-ups to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, mind you, but more like compilations of B-sides or demos or outtakes or something -- the kind of thing that doesn't have to be amazing to deliver on its promise of a breathtaking moment here or there and a few hints at where Tweedy's brain is at these days.

Listen first to Loose Fur, and you'll find that one half of Tweedy's brain has gone on some kind of Fear and Loathing-style hallucinogenic road trip with Jim O'Rourke. During this bender, while lounging in some cabaret's nicked velvet banquette in the middle of the afternoon, Tweedy scribbled a few lucid thoughts on a napkin and handed it to O'Rourke, who had just returned from some heartfelt thing he was doing up onstage. With the exception of closer "Chinese Apple," the only song that fully develops the synergies between O'Rourke's loose avant-wonk and Tweedy's embittered troubadour shtick, the Tweedy-led (and best) tracks on the album seem like distended but nevertheless undernourished versions of YHF's "Radio Cure" or "Poor Places."

And what of the other half of Tweedy's brain? It tagged along with the rest of Wilco to Scott McCaughey's rec room, where usual Minus 5 suspects Peter Buck and Ken Stringfellow were sitting around drinking beer, listening to Motown records, and griping about women. Overall, Down With Wilco is a more satisfying record than Loose Fur -- catchy, tuneful, and smartly arranged. And McCaughey, trading off vocal duties with Maestro Jeff, is a better Tweedy stand-in than O'Rourke; he captures something lighthearted, where O'Rourke needlessly aims for deadpan earnest. But Down With Wilco is ultimately a showcase of Tweedy in his comfort zone, dishing out unsentimental, fairly straightforward folk rock. That's not a bad thing, but it is a reminder of why Yankee Hotel Foxtrot represented such a gigantic musical leap for Wilco, inasmuch as that album aimed for something deeper, stranger, harder, and more true in its strangled choruses and dissonant peals.