The Wire Reviews Happiness of Living

On Fillmore, the duo of Wilco percussionist Glenn Kotche and Tweedy bass player Darin Gray, came together in 1999 during a homebound plane ride after performing in London with Jim O’Rourke, and the project has so far resulted in three albums of meditative dream music – each of which takes the listener on a journey to some far away place.

For 2009’s Extended Vacation their intricately played percussion and thoughtful bass patterning slipstreamed over subliminal electronics, rainforest sounds and marching band music. The result was an exotic suite of instrumental pieces that evoked an unlikely alliance between Martin Denny and Charles Ives.

That same sense of alt exotica ripples through their fourth musical adventure together, only on Happiness Of Living Kotche and Gray have teamed up with musicians and singers from Rio de Janeiro to create something that burrows into Brazilian culture while retaining the effervescent identity of previous recordings. Here borrowed tape loops from Sao Paulo artist Chiara Banfi, the angelic vocal of BrazilianAmerican singer-songwriter Gabriela Riley and Maura Refosco’s additional percussion presence further illuminate On Fillmore’s dreamlike iridescence. Although it takes several plays to fully appreciate, Happiness unfurls like a hothouse orchid to reveal a lush collection of cinematic sketches, each one with its own distinct character and story to tell.

Treated voices resonate over grinding electronics and the tolling of distant church bells on “Bota Fogo”, while “Drums Equal Percussion” has Kotche and Refosco playfully squaring up for a finely tuned knockabout, refereed by Gray’s brooding bass intrusion amid a scattering of Game Boy FX. The infectious impact of these various musical techniques however really kicks in with “Truta Samba”, a lively Latin jazz number spiced with sultry layers of exotic harmonising, electronic scree and bustling street recordings, over which On Fillmore’s passionately played drum and bass motions ride out the tropical storm.

– Edwin Pouncey