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Jim O'Rourke
Simple Songs
Drag City

'There ARE no simple songs - only simple people. And since guns don't kill people, Simple Songs will have to do. Super-sweet terrorism from our very own latter-day Spector!' (Drag City)

Simple Songs is Jim O'Rourke's first selection of song based material since 2001 and the album Insignificance. But he has kept himself busy, as an improviser, as a sound sculptor, as a producer and an arranger. This practice in the service of sound alchemy is doing something with the way I perceive this new album. I'm listening to it as I would one of his experimental works, I'm listening to the textures, the way it is recorded, produced and mastered.

The typical O'Rourke-sound, as heard on his earlier albums, in addition to the work he has produced for other artists, is one of dryness and of tidiness. There's little reverb and the arrangements are extremely tight, everything clicking together like Lego bricks. His work on the recent albums of his partner Eiko Ishibashi makes for good examples of this sound: complex prog pop songs recorded in a way, and presented in an airy manner that's the antithesis to the brickwall style of so many modern albums. Jim O'Rourke cares for the way music sounds.

So it's interesting to note that Simple Songs sounds a bit different from his earlier works. There's more reverb, the whole thing sounds a bit more dirty, a bit more organic. The almost aggresive cymbal sound dominating "All Your Love", the album closer, is far removed from his preferred clicky percussion sounds of the past. It sounds less like the product of a hermit living isolated in a studio, and more like the recording of a band playing live. Is this a good thing, then? I don't know, and I suspect I have to live with this album for years before I decide. But I know it's different, and I know that I enjoy listening to music made by a guy who cares, who puts some thinking into the fabric of his art.

But what about the songs? Well, as a songwriter Jim O'Rourke is still himself. Deeply ambivalent, a cynic or a hesistant romantic. The first song is called "Friends With Benefits" and Jim's singing:

"Nice to see you once again,
been a long time my friends
since you crossed my mind at all"

In the last song on the album he's making sure we understand that "your love will never change me". Still the stubborn individualist then, a gnarly sceptic to any easy assumptions about romantic love.

There's of course nothing simple about Jim O'Rourke's jazz tinged pop songs, about his sound ideals and general world view, or the way his music is recorded. Simple Songs offers complex music for complex times, with a sense of irony I never hope goes out of style.

Copyright © 2015 Thor-Eirik Johnsen e-mail address

You may also want to check out our Jim O'Rourke articles/reviews: I'm Happy, and I'm Singing, and a 1, 2, 3, 4, Insignificance, The Visitor.

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