It only took eight years, but Jim ORourke dropped a solo album into our laps, and surprise, surprise, its damn good. The Chicagoan/musician/producer/guru has been unpredictably dipping his toes into hundreds of musical ponds since (at least) 1992, and this is still a departure from the last thing he did.
At only 40-years-old, ORourkes eccentricities have a wide range with an impressive resume. From being a big name coming out of the Chicago experimental/improv scene (hes featured in a late ’90s collection of improv performances at Wicker Park bookstore Myopic Books), to holding a position in Sonic Youth, he has also mixed records for Wilco and Joanna Newsom and produced records for John Fahey, Tony Conrad, and many others. In addition, O’Rourke participated as a music consultant for Jack Blacks School of Rock, and has scored films by the likes of Werner Herzog and Koji Wakamatsu. His solo records spread from lyrical guitar-work (Insignificance), to eerie noise-scapes (the sublime Terminal Pharmacy for John Zorns Tzadik label), to wild, prepared piano compositions (Corona-Tokyo Realizations).
The Visitor, released on the inimitable Drag City, clocks in at 38 minutes of instrumental bliss. The release is perfectly timed for dreamy, slow fall afternoons. Though one near forty minute track initially seems stagnant, it instead, is intensely structured, focused on repeating motifs and movements.
After two minutes of rich, acoustic guitar, ORourke picks up a few more instruments to fill out the arrangement. Theres plenty of bright, shimmering synth paired with toms and maracas. At first, the piece feels as if John Fahey (a man that ORourke is familiar with) recorded it after spending some time with ’70s pop-cinema soundtracks. Around six minutes in, the arrangement boils down to solo guitar again, ORourke picking and popping at the strings with masterful precision, producing a loopy, twangy bluegrass groove after a briefly chilled resonance. This doesnt last long, though, as all the prior additions return with a distorted, rock-friendly electric guitar matching the acoustic.
This repeated crescendo and fade hops between musical genres and influences sheepishly, always returning to the ORourke-perfected loose, minimalist guitar progression. The only truly consistent thing about the album is a fanciful, whimsical perfection. Not a note is out of place, and not a musical change is stilted or unnecessary. Around minute 13, ORourkes at a piano, front and center, producing a lush, transcendent rag. The guitar acts as a sliding, chilled afterthought. 20 minutes in, the snare drum skitters as the acoustic guitar is turned, briefly, into a quick-picked banjo, with a florid, rushing take on a warmed twang. Theres also what sounds like a pair of clarinets crooning deeply in the background. At 25 minutes, ORourkes nodding to his noise background, slyly, the drumming erratic and spattered, the synth verging on atonal without veering completely out of the pastoral perfection that encompasses the album.
But, like every other bit of stylistic dabbling, this fades back, replaced by something completely new. The noise is supplanted by a Jon Brion-esque, haunting piano and low, howling synth duet. A few other genres drop in for a brief visit before the piece comes to a low, cozy close, the piano melting and dripping off the end of the album. However, any fan knows this last fade wont last too long. There might not be another solo album for eight years, but hell be adding some wildly inventive, powerful music to something else very soon, and it wont sound too much like The Visitor.