Jim O’Rourke is an interesting figure, and one of my favourite musicians. He’s someone that lots of DiS people may have heard of, but also one of those people with a big, complicated and non-linear back catalogue: my man has done all sorts of things, in all sorts of contexts, with various levels of profile / obscurity. On one end of the spectrum is literal Burt Bacharach, on the other is total harsh textural abstraction. I imagine it’s not easy to get started with Jim, but I also think he’s one of the best ever to do it, so I’m going to try and make getting into him, or at least finding a pathway, a bit easier.
Ages ago I thought about doing a big post / thread about Jim and where to start listening to him, but it quickly got long and complicated and I didn’t have room to do it alongside the studying and working and life I was doing at the time. But now I’m back at it, with a plan. There’s a number of article-length ‘Introduction to Jim O’Rourke’ pieces around, but there’s such a depth and breadth to what he’s done that I don’t think you can get close to doing it justice in that amount of space: you just end up skimming along the surface. Here though, we can stretch out and dig in. As the Sonic Youth Listening Club is currently reaching the Jim era, I reckon now is the time.
I’ve figured out a kind of schedule of weekly(?) posts, focusing on different areas of what Mr O’Rourke does, with a few selected album recommendations each week. I’ll try and put things into context a bit with some writing. I’m not calling it a listening club, because I don’t imagine that all that many people will care, and also because doing just one album a week would take a very very long time. But I would of course love it if people feel like listening and reading and posting their thoughts!
I’ll be posting Youtube and Bandcamp links where possible. I don’t use Spotify, so I can’t do any Spotify playlisting or linking unfortunately. (Don’t mind if anyone else wants to add that in though)
Week 1 post to follow!
Insignificance, Eureka and the Halfway To A Threeway EP
Used to be pretty skeptical of his stuff (for no good reason), but came round to eureka after hearing multiple mindblowingly good otomo yoshihide interpretations
Week 1: Jimtroduction - Bad Timing
‘There’s Hell in Hello…’
For this first instalment I’ve gone with just a single album, one that points the way to (some of) the many paths we’ll be following. Bad Timing is one of his ‘big’ solo albums, his first for Drag City, and a masterpiece.
Bad Timing has a core of tactile, melodic fingerstyle acoustic guitar running through it. The guitar lines are then embellished and supported by all sorts of other instrumentation, ranging from lap steel, piano, electric-guitar-amp-drone, organ, a brass band, and much more. It achieves that impressive feat of sounding entirely natural in the way it flows and moves and develops, yet if you listen closely and try to follow the shifting developments there is a huge amount going on, with each track changing quite a lot during its runtime.
It’s a perfect bringing-together of many of Jim’s interests: extended Fahey-esque folk guitar, raga-drone, avant-minimalism, lush studio-pop arrangements, clever meta-engagements with the history of music. You could draw a connecting line from Bad Timing to most (maybe not quite all) of Jim’s other work. It’s also extremely listenable and beautiful, and quite funny in one particular section (you’ll know it when you hear it). It wears all that complexity and referential complexity so lightly that you could happily stick it on as background music: I used to do this while working in a pub, which was fine as long as I remembered to dive for the volume knob a few minutes before the end (which I usually didn’t).
What do you think of Bad Timing?
Oh I love this thread already
And I’ll def post about Bad Timing at some point cauae it’s legit an all timer
Never heard this one but it sounds right up my street, going to seek it out!
That’s good because I plan for it to go on for ages!
(preview of forthcoming attractions…)
Used to be well into Insignificance but have never listened any further than that, other than being aware of his contributions to some of SY and Wilco’s stuff. Read quite a bit around the latter and his work on YHF and A Ghost is Born, which he clearly contributed a lot to. Seems like an interesting guy, and a nice idea for a thread.
I finally listened to him recently and went for Simple Songs to start with. Was much more straightforward nice singer-songwriter stuff and less weird and obtuse than I expected but then I guess the title explains that.
Don’t know about the rest of his stuff yet so this thread will be useful.
He probably isn’t weird or obtuse at all anyway but for some reason it’s what I built him up as in my head.
Otomo really loves that song doesn’t he? They are great great interpretations too
Tracking this thread!
Never managed to dive in, due to the density of this catalogue. Mainly know him as the extra guitarist in the early 2000s Sonic Youth iteration.
Got Bad Timing on now, and yeah this seems pretty special!
Literally just hit the bit in Happy Trails where it shifts, very good.
I’m of the opinion that Jim is actually a stronger author of musique concrete than he is a creator of “albums”. Certain of the Steamroom recordings that Real Heads have recommended to me stand head and shoulders above most of his other work, for example. I’ll see if I can track down those recommendations and post them here.
Imo his best album is Shutting Down Here
Of his pop albums I like Bad Timing best, it loses points for basically being a John Fahey tribute album (but wins them back by ending up as being “the best John Fahey album John never recorded”)
Insignificance sounds like bad Wilco to me. The Visitor didn’t hold my interest.
Seek out also Loose Fur and Happy Days and of course at least three Gastr Del Sol albums (Mirror Repair, Upgrade And Afterlife, Camofleur)
(This reminds me, despite my O’Rourke fandom I’ve never listened to Simple Songs because of my weariness of his pop stuff, but I’ve heard it’s awesome, will listen today!)
The greatness of the Steamroom / musique concrete stuff is one reason I wanted to do this tbh, as it’s too often presented as a bit of a footnote. But it is in some ways his main thing, and he’s so so good in that mode.
Bad Timing is one of the few Jim O’Rourke albums I’ve listened to and all I know is that I love 94 the Long Way.