Wilco drummer creates a solo record rooted in Steve Reich, the thumb piano, and a variety of rhythmic puzzles.
Since the release of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, “experimental” is a word that has been clinging like a lamprey to descriptions of Wilco’s post-alt-country phase. There’s the burbling static of “Radio Cure”, the number stations transmission at the end of “Poor Places”, and, on follow-up A Ghost Is Born, the endless motorik of “Spiders (Kidsmoke)”. But throughout the band’s catalogue, these so-called experiments are really ornamental additions to concise and crafted pop music. Glenn Kotche, who pounds the skins for both Wilco and spin-off Loose Fur, actually merits the “experimental” tag. On his third solo album, Kotche serves up another collection of compositions that give no indication that his main gig is drumming for a pop band. Instead, Mobile is made up of eight instrumental pieces, largely percussive, that chart closer to minimalist compositions of the latter 20th century.
The album begins with “Clapping Music Variations”, in which Kotche takes a portion of Steve Reich’s piece, “Clapping Music”, as a starting point and embellishes from there. Delicate gamelan gives way to vibraphone and bells that play over syncopated beats– from both acoustic and digital sources. The piece is representative of the music that follows. It stretches out like a landscape in which instruments and silence are granted nearly the same value.
The album’s center, though, revolves around “Mobile Parts 1 & 2” and “Mobile Part 3”. It’s hard to discern what Kotche means by the titles: Does the word refer to a noun or an adjective? In the case of parts one and two, it would seem the former– sonic elements seem suspended and hypnotically twirl in and out of focus. “Mobile Part 3”, on the other hand, moves forward in a more linear fashion, as if it is approaching a destination. Driven by machine-like percussion, it’s the album’s most melodic piece– minimalist piano building against a counter melody of ringing tones.
Throughout the album the music is complex and unpredictable while never sounding improvised. And yet, although these pieces are wrought with meticulous detail, they’re rarely memorable. Instead of sticking with the listener, it’s a tremendous showcase for how much innovative sound Kotche can draw out of an instrument typically relegated to timekeeping.