Jim O’Rourke is the most prominent pornographer in indie rock: Whether as a producer, guitarist, or laptop noodler, the pasty Chicagoan turns everything he touches into a series of so-pretty-they’re-almost-ugly moments. He’s spent much of his career applying lip gloss to other bands’ work—adding happy horns, trickly finger-picking, and purple synth swirls to discs by the likes of Superchunk and Stereolab. On his own—namely on 1997’s Bad Timing, 1999’s Eureka, and 2001’s Insignificance—he’s made music that relies on washes of bells, sax cheese, and lame jokes. It’s all vaguely swank, vaguely amusing, and sometimes vaguely Steely Dan. But O’Rourke still has that hushed voice and that earnest yearning to evoke the perfect happy trail. And unlike Ryan Adams, who sees a dusty-roaded route as a shortcut to shameless Springsteen-sized bombast, O’Rourke creates an Americana that’s big and warm but also slightly embarrassing. It’s that uneasy tension between loving and exploiting a genre that put him in the studio with Wilco’s singer-guitarist Jeff Tweedy and percussionist Glenn Kotche to produce something called Loose Fur. After nearly two years of sessions, the result is a mere tweaking of O’Rourke’s formula: soft-lit stuff that sounds maybe a little too relaxed this time. There are six mellow songs here, excuses to be serious and autumnal (“Laminated Cat”), serious and tributary (“Chinese Apple”), and seriously shattered (“You Were Wrong”). Cue up the gentle plucking, lazy L.A. croon, and dumb lyrics of “Elegant Transaction” (“Be careful when you take a call for someone else…/You don’t know where that phone’s been”) and you’ve got the idea of Loose Fur in a nutshell. Sort of: Before long, O’Rourke’s singsong gives way to a banjo’s pretty plucking and a xylophone’s pretty pinging, and then the two guitarists are off, rambling up and down lush green hills like Frodo and Sam on a bender. As always, you’re not sure whether O’Rourke is putting you on—that is, until the song sharpens and becomes clear, and you get it, too. And then you just don’t want it to end. —Jason Cherkis

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