US - Illinois - Full Moon 63 - 11/30/01
When the record kicks off with a groovy-ass Southern rock riff you have to ask yourself 'Is
this really Jim O'Rourke?!'. And then he starts intoning his wry, witty lyrics and you know
you've got the right man. The riff drops out and twinkling glockenspiel, piano and acoustic
guitar make your jaw hit the ground. When the riff comes back in it knocks you sideways yet
again, and sounds so right you want to cream yourself. Hooray for Jim! That's just track one,
All Downhill From Here.
I've been a fan of Jim O'Rourke ever since I heard Women Of The World on a cover CD.
I bought Eureka and fell in love with it. It's one of my favourite albums of all time.
After releasing the gorgeous Halfway To A Threeway EP I knew that this man had an
alchemical touch, turning out pop of ridiculously sublime qualities.
The wait for this follow-up has been long, but the meantime has given me the chance to check
out the Fahey-influenced Bad Timing and a host of records that figure among Jim's
favourites: Laughing Stock by Talk Talk; Scott Walker's Tilt; Animal Magnetism
by Arnold Dreyblatt; Song Cycle by Van Dyke Parks. They all widened the big picture.
I've yet to explore Jim's experimental output, anxious that his more esoteric dabblings might put
me off. But Insignificance is here now, and, surprise, surprise, is it significant.
There seems to be a clutch of American musicians who can turn everything they touch into gold
- Dave Pajo, Will Oldham, John McEntire, Sam Prekop. The thing that distinguishes Jim O'Rourke,
for me, is his ability to produce music that is immediately accessible yet wholly satisfying.
The layers of instrumentation on this album, like 'Eureka', are beautiful. Left bouncing
amiably around the room through speakers or harnessed into a pair of headphones so you can
explore the details, these sounds are a joy. Uplifting, funny, sad, catchy, clever - these seven
songs fly by over the course of 38 minutes leaving you gasping for more.
My personal favourite is the penultimate track Get A Room. Building from a simple
acoustic guitar pattern reminiscent of Suzanne Vega, and filling out with bass, piano, organ and
shuffling drums, it drags you into a subtle undertow. The lyrics are darkly humorous and before
you know it Jim has spun a heartrending tale to a charming, lilting musical backdrop. "I would
like nothing more to do/Than to watch the desperation on your face"; this is the same man who
has just appeared in The Wire magazine carrying a bunny rabbit.
Close behind is the strutting rifferama of 'Therefore I Am' and the swell of delicious
plucked guitars on Memory Lame. Here he's juggling lyrics like knives before you realise
he's got a heart of gold after all: "These things I say can seem pretty cruel/But this thing comes
from my heart to you".
There's just so much here to enjoy: the way the skeleton-stark country of Good Times
constructs a fragile spider web of sound before disappearing into nothing; the climax of the
album, Life Goes Off, which threatens to invent a new genre called 'glitch country' before
veering off into a looping squall so audacious that it can't help but bring a smile to your face.
It's quite amazing how great you feel when listening to this music.
Apparently Jim recorded the whole album once and then scrapped it because it sounded like
'Eureka 2.5'. Only the man who recorded Eureka could feel that releasing an upgrade of
that masterpiece would be selling himself short. When there are so many strings to your bow, how
you can you not fire off glorious, cheeky fireballs like these songs?
Ultimately, Insignificance gets my highest recommendation. A superb Jim O'Rourke album,
and that's really saying something.
Copyright © 2001 Tim Clarke