Disregarding Jeff Tweedy for a moment, one way of mapping the diverse influences of Wilco is by having a look at the side projects of the various members. So on the one side, you have the fairly mild-mannered and conventional chamber pop produced by John Stirratt and Pat Sansone in The Autumn Defense. Then, on the other, you’re confronted by the fairly bewildering array of avant-garde jams disseminated by Nels Cline.
And then there’s the drummer Glenn Kotche, both solo and as one half of On Fillmore. I think Kotche came to Tweedy’s attention thanks to his involvement with Jim O’Rourke, and On Fillmore’s other member, the bassist Darin Gray, is/was a regular part of O’Rourke’s gifted entourage during the latter’s frantically busy period around the turn of the century.
“Extended Vacation” is, I think, the fourth On Fillmore album, though I must admit I can only recall hearing the last one, “Sleeps With Fishes”. “Extended Vacation” is not what you might first imagine; maybe some post-post-rock manoeuvres, with some improvisational flash here and there.
Instead, it consists of a bunch of ineffably delicate instrumentals that locate the experimental impetus within Martin Denny’s exotica and run with it, allbeit at a very easygoing pace. These seven tracks are predominantly vibes-driven and recorded with a beautiful clarity and crispness, though that doesn’t make the discreet rustling instruments – apart from Gray’s upright bass – any more identifiable in the main. Like Denny, “Extended Vacation” seems to try and conjure up an ethereal, unreal, idealised jungle soundtrack, fitted out with an array of bird sounds – some maybe field recordings, some provided by Dede Sampaio, a Brazilian jazz percussionist.
It’s immensely beguiling, pretty much following through on the possibilities suggested by Stereolab, The High Llamas and a good few Chicago bands in the mid ‘90s when they sought to tease out the avant-garde potential of records – like Denny’s – which had long been relegated to the category of kitsch. Part of the charm and effectiveness of “Extended Vacation” is how Kotche and Gray subtly add more radical textures into the melting pot: the vigorously edited horn voluntaries and marching band drums that clatter into the finale of “Daydreaming So Early”, for instance.
All of these sonic adjustments remain fairly mellow in effect, however, until the latter part of the title track, when a cranky, tinny, feedbacking instrument barrels in, completely at odds with the prevailing feel. It’s interesting (what is that sound? A shahi baaja, maybe, like the one used by the Flower/Corsano Duo? I’m stumped), though there’s an argument that such a perverse obligation to disrupt the mood isn’t totally necessary.