For us Midwesterners, the jungle might sound like a pretty ominous place — with nature left to its own devices, “wild” takes on a whole new meaning. It might not be the first place you would want to spend a vacation either, as the rainforest is a far cry from sandy beaches and sunshine, let alone the city.

On Fillmore

Endless Vacation
Dead Oceans

Endless Vacation, the third widely released album from Chicago duo On Fillmore, certainly evokes the Amazon more than the Midwest, using a wealth of Tropicalia-inspired freeform jazz and musique concrète. The band pairs percussionist Glenn Kotche (of Wilco) with bassist Darin Gray. They met through Chicago scenester Jim O’Rourke in 2000. Kotche and Gray found similarities in their classical training and free jazz affinities, and formed On Fillmore as an outlet for the more experimental ideas their day jobs wouldn’t allow.

While side projects have a tendency to be swept under the rug in comparison to their parent bands — in this case, avant-pop-rock juggernaut Wilco — these projects tend to be more meditative, sprawling and experimental as a result. It seems appropriate to note, then, that On Fillmore’s latest release, Endless Vacation, sounds nothing like Wilco — this is an experimental jazz record immersed in the sounds of the wild.

The animal sounds that adorn the record, credited as “Birds” in the liner notes, could easily be mistaken for astonishing field recordings. In actuality, friend DeDe Sampaio performed each squawk himself from the floor of a grain silo. The result is startlingly authentic: Each screech has such a sense of proximity and immediacy that the oddly soothing feeling of being surrounded on all sides by beasts, bugs and birds is inevitable.

Establishing a mood-driven, minimalist feel right off the bat, opener “Checking In” sets a relaxed tone with a few minutes of prolonged laughter over mobile, jazzy basslines and sparse vibraphone. The comparitively driving “Master Moon” has a more sinister feel, introducing Sampaio’s cacophony of bird-calls for added tension. The title track, appropriately enough, is the longest on the record, with junkyard percussion and seemingly random xylophone strikes slowly building over the course of its 12 minutes.

Because the songs are primarily ambience-focused, they tend not to stand out on their own — the album is more representative of a unified aesthetic, mood or location than a collection of singular tracks. The musical anonymity from track to track, while slightly homogenizing, ultimately aids the record in its primary goal: getting you lost inside of it. And, on these grounds, it succeeds.

Kotche is known for experimenting with non-traditional percussion, and it shows here — in addition to using the standard set of toms, cymbals and snare, Kotche employs two octaves of crotales, a gong and something called a fruit basket, among numerous other homemade concoctions. His latest solo release, Mobile, even featured an army of chirping crickets.

Extended Vacation uses found sounds from nature to an even greater extent than on Kotche’s previous work, employing Sampaio’s feral utterances to create its own world that, like the jungles it seems to genuinely conjure, can be quite frightening. Where the wild things are, indeed.

Through its seven tracks of exploratory, occasionally aimless jazz composition, Endless Vacation is a break from the daily grind for its creators — Kotche, who has been touring relentlessly with Wilco in support of last summer’s Wilco (The Album), has certainly had his hands full. More than anything, the record is a vacation from form, pop-oriented arrangements and expectation, as Gray and Kotche tune out the noise and static of the city in favor of the freedom of the wild.

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