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Tag: Jim’ O’Rourke

Jim O’Rourke – The Visitor

by on Oct.16, 2009, under Good Music

Jim O’Rourke pretty much does whatever the hell he wants and more power to him. His production style always feels warm and eccentric, regardless of what he is touching. And yet his roster of things he has touched is rather eclectic. He has produced the likes of Wilco, Kahimi Karie, Stereolab and Joanna Newsom, to name a few. He has scored film by Werner Herzog. He’s been a full fledged member of Gastr Del Sol, Loose Fur and Sonic Youth. He played for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. He’s pumped out almost two dozen solo albums. He’s received grants and a Grammy. Now he lives in Tokyo, Japan and, to reiterate, he does whatever the hell he wants.

And again…more power to him.

His newest solo effort, recorded in his Tokyo apartment but sounding much larger, is called simply, The Visitor. It is one long and ever evolving track, clocking in at about thirty-eight minutes. The standard O’Rourke fare is ever present. There are clean, acoustic guitars, delicately touched piano keys, soft ambiance, 70’s era electric guitar flourishes, darkish downturns, distant pedal steel sounds, and touches of driving beats with an emphasis on snare rolls. Yep. It’s all there and eloquently arranged as always.

The tone of the piece may perhaps go through the perceived emotions felt through the duration of the title visitor’s visit. That’s just the obvious assumption, though, and the true intent is between O’Rourke and his music. Suffice it to say that the work changes its colors several times through its duration. As best I can figure, there is an undercurrent of longing that seems to hold the whole thing together. It’s dotted along the way with moments mostly comprised of whimsy or mystery, and a sense of intense satisfaction just before the longing and sentiment return for the very end.

It’s a powerful arrangement of sounds. It would serve well as background music, though to fully appreciate it takes a few close and purposeful listens. There are no vocal parts, but it feels as though dialogue is being traded somewhere in the mix. I suggest a dark and quiet room when you are ready to tune in. You’ll have to make a trip to the record store first, though. There are no digital sales of this one.

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Wilco (The Album)

by on Aug.30, 2009, under Good Music

I had been anticipating this one for a long, long time.  Of course, I have also been a Wilco fan for a long, long time.  I was there for their first, A.M. and aged with glee as every couple years or so, the band would morph into a better form and release a better album.  Being There topped A.M. Summerteeth topped Being ThereYankee Hotel Foxtrot topped SummerteethA Ghost Is Born topped everything.  Literally…everything.

Even the mightiest waves, however, must eventually break and return to the shore.  For Wilco, this happened with Sky Blue Sky. It wasn’t a bad album, overall – just sub par for the mighty Wilco, despite being the first studio album with Nels Cline and Pat Sansone in tow.  It was simply not consistently, totally and overwhelmingly prolific as anything since Being There.  It was a step back for one of my favorite bands and so I became concerned.

But hey.  This isn’t a review of Sky Blue Sky. It’s a review of the follow up:  Wilco (The Album).  And, for better or for worse, it’s position in the Wilco catalog makes Sky Blue Sky sound like a b-side collection.  Either way, Wilco fans  can all breathe much easier now.

So let’s just omit Sky Blue Sky because the comparison, or any idea of an evolution between albums, is futile.  Wilco (The Album) is obviously superior to Sky Blue Sky in every way.  Better writing.  Better production.  Better flow.  The question is this:  How does Wilco (The Album) stack up against the damn flawless A Ghost Is Born?

The short answer is pretty well.  Indeed, it does feel like Wilco (The Album) is the natural evolution from A Ghost Is Born. It’s hard for me to accept it as “better” but I can’t say there is anything contained within that makes it worse either.  The thing about it is that it really does seem like the most natural embodiment so far of “what Wilco is.”  The album title, hence, is perfectly timed and completely appropriate.  Likewise for the opening track, “Wilco (The Song),” which plays like the heart that all these Wilco veins have been transporting blood to for all these years.  It’s not just a song they say their name in – it is definitively Wilco.

That being said, it really exposes Ghost as being a fantastic album, but not so much a Wilco disc as a Wilco and Jim O’Rourke disc.  Sky Blue Sky was entirely produced by the band themselves, but in that case, that may have been the problem:  too much on their plate.   Alas, they have found a seemingly perfect balance on Wilco (The Album) with co-producer, Jim Scott (who helped engineer several previous albums).  This enabled the band to play their songs, and master their instrumentation – leaving an objective and familiar third party to do what was necessary to make the message clear without much dictating how that message was conveyed.  (Again, Jim O’Rourke had a fairly heavy hand in A Ghost Is Born, both choosing and playing instruments.)

So the production is clear and every note seems to be precisely placed.  This is by no means lazy writing.  Instrumentally, each sound is nailed down firmly with no disruption of the sonic feng shui.  Canadian songstress, Feist, makes an appearance here, lending vocals to the album’s fluffy center, “You and I.”  Surrounding this, despite fleeting moments of comfortable nuances, Wilco (The Album) does have something of a dark side.  The chilling “Bull Black Nova” intensely captures the thoughts and feelings of a man after murdering his girlfriend.  Other themes include failed relationships (“One Wing”), generational self importance (“You Never Know”)  and the finite nature of all things (“Everlasting Everything”).   There is also  some fairly ambiguous but haunting imagery contained in such songs as “Country Disappeared” (which perhaps may be about nuclear war) and “Sonny Feeling” (which might merrily allude to violence and even rape, but certainly to being in the wrong place at the wrong time).

Wilco (The Album), if nothing else, is incredibly mature, difficult to pin down, and incessantly catchy.  And as Wilco (the band) has always encapsulated through it’s many lineup changes and experimental sound sculpting, the album is a bittersweet cavalcade of mixed emotions.  Like I said…definitively Wilco.

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