If you skip reading this, I do not blame you. Because for a long time, whenever I’d come across the name Jim O’Rourke, even despite the fact that he’d aligned himself with plenty of artists I like and/or respect, I never really felt the need to give the guy a shot. Maybe it had to do with the fact that the word “experimental” was one descriptor that’d come up whenever I’d see some stray Pitchfork piece mentioning the guy, while “experimental” in regards to my musical taste usually translates to “thing I do not need to waste my time listening to”. But I’ve recently been getting into him, maybe due to Wilco having a new album out, while O’Rourke, a frequent collaborator of the venerable Chicago act also recently released an album that’s been well-received by critics, who among other indie rock musicians seem to be the only people that tend to listen to Jim O’Rourke albums. Thankfully, the guy has a lot more in common with, say Wilco than whatever kinetic noodling I was expecting his music to sound like, so much so that I’ve also been checking out his back catalogue in addition to Simple Songs, his first proper album in six years.
I suppose O’Rourke’s ties to experimental or electronic music seems to be more tied to whatever independent releases he’s been putting out on his website, since the more song-based stuff of his I’ve listened to (all released on the Drag City label) are pretty approachable. I suppose the most radical thing about O’Rourke’s music, and perhaps the reason I’d never quite felt the urge to check it out, is that it is a little bit hard to categorize. There’s no mistaking it as guitar-based rock music, for sure. But O’Rourke’s songs, and particularly the ones on Simple Songs are this unique hybrid of folk/roots-rock/indie/prog and whatever else, which sounds like it should be terrible, but O’Rourke seems to be such a sharp curator of different sounds that it’s no wonder he’s had such a varied and respected career as a producer.
Simple Songs gets even harder to pin down with its last few tracks “End Of The Road” and “All Your Love”, which have a kind of disarming orchestral sweep, but that’s fine, Jim O’Rourke is clearly the kind of guy who’s not doing this for anyone but himself. He’s a guy who’s applied his understanding of music in a lot of different capacities and clearly doesn’t see there as just being one way to approach music, and it’s hard not to respect guys like that who march to the beat of their own drum. The song “Last Year” could even be seen as O’Rourke’s own indictment of this ethos, as he sings “Hey, he’s an artist. / He’s committed to his craft. / I wouldn’t last a day, not out here. / Hey, not to be heartless. I think he does it for a laugh.” Only problem is, it’s hard to believe anything on Simple Songs is done for a laugh when there’s so much care and precision involved, even if it is just a thing that other indie rock musicians and critics (including amateur ones like myself) will care about.
Favorite Tracks: “Friends With Benefits”, “Last Year”, “All Your Love”