Loose Fur is not a Jim O'Rourke album -- but that's only true in the sense that Magritte's famous painting "The Treason of Images" (which features the line "This is not a pipe" written in French below an obvious pipe) is not a pipe. After all, everything that the improv guitarist, tape splicer, record producer, laptop composer and current fifth member of Sonic Youth touches ends up being, in some sense, a Jim O'Rourke album, even if he's merely sneezed on it. The musician has put his inimitable stamp on everyone from Stereolab to Smog, most recently gaining attention for producing Wilco's critically acclaimed Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, on which he touched up that band's rootsy Americana with his signature approach to noise and space. On Loose Fur, a kind of oblique reflection of the latter project (some of the recordings actually predate the Foxtrot sessions), O'Rourke collaborates with Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy and drummer Glenn Kotche on six twisted and battered pop songs.
Throughout the album, O'Rourke and Tweedy swap vocal duties, each bringing his peculiar lilt to abstract lyrics such as "If I sleep too much/A good Chinese apple/Shines to the touch/Of my sleeve" (from the Tweedy-led "Chinese Apple"). The real action, unsurprisingly, is in the music, which swells and swirls with its players' restless whimsy. Garage rock's single-minded drone gives way to acoustic flights of fingerpicking; taut power chords unfold over loose-limbed jazz acrobatics. Even the folksy "Chinese Apple," which begins with three minutes of melancholic acoustic plucking and Tweedy's gruff, intimate whisper, goes swimming in roiling waters, with whitecapped guitars consuming each other in an endless tumult. But beneath all the slack and rumple, precision reigns. Just listen to the feedback-guitar interplay that closes "Laminated Cat" -- every guitar string sings with an edge that's new-moon thin, and each electronic howl slices as neatly as a paper cut. There's no loose fur on this beast: It's as clean and close as the oiled, wiry back of a fox.