The title’s at least part of getting your audience on side, and Extended Vacation seems about right, as far as album titles go. This fourth album for On Fillmore (the duo of Glenn Kotche, sometimes of Wilco, and Darin Gray) comes after a long break, but the time between hasn’t dampened any enthusiasm for reconstructed exotica. If the glint of the vibes and the slow pluck and bob of double bass doesn’t signify it straight away, then the bird calls (both real and imitation) land you in the territory of the Lymans of this world, albeit with the gaudy overstatement and melodic excess kept trim and in shape. Call it exotica for the indie set. (And close your windows when you’re listening – blasting it out of my new, second-story flat, the local bird-life read it as a challenge, and opened their own chorus in tandem with “Daydreaming So Early”’s musical aviary.)
At its best, as on the title track, Extended Vacation reminds me a little of the Art Ensemble Of Chicago – something in the suggestive spaces in the compositions and the polyglot handling of ‘little instruments’ recalls parts of AEC’s Full Force. “Extended Vacation” is On Fillmore at their most fascinating, with Kotche and Gray adding high, whispery organ notes, and percussion channeled through scuzzy, wiry electronics, while tiny details scuttle in from the edges, like an army of crabs clattering across a beach. Other compositions, like “Master Moon” or “Complications,” are tighter and less open to change, but they still hold enough melodic variety to keep your ears cocked toward the speakers, as the duo unfold their imagined idyll in front of you.
But my reservations about Extended Vacation are the same as for earlier On Fillmore albums – that the virtuoso nature of their exotica, given at times a rather earnest spin, has them leaning toward slightly furrow-browed fusion. Most of the time Kotche and Gray manage to avoid this, but I still prefer the undiluted punch of their solo recordings, where they’re more exacting and rigorous in their attack. Kotche’s Next and Gray’s St. Louis Shuffle both partly re-wrote the text for their chosen instrumental set-ups, and I’d be intrigued to see them trying to do something similar together. For now, Extended Vacation is nice enough, at times seductively lovely, but it lands short of essential.