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Jim O'Rourke - Insignificance

Drift Sunday Classic

Jim O'Rourke - Insignificance

Released in the winter of 2001, Insignificance is a solo album by Chicagoan musical polymath Jim O’Rourke and it sure plays the heartstrings.

Jim O'Rourke can be an intimidating artist to start exploring. Over the last thirty odd years, the instrumentalist, composer, singer-songwriter and record producer has performed as part of Gastr del Sol, Loose Fur and Sonic Youth amongst many others. He has mixed and produced artists to include Joanna Newsom, Smog, Wilco, Bitchin Bajas, The High Llamas and Stereolab. His own discography is simply daunting, releasing something like thirty* solo and collaborative albums that flow between jazz, ambience, pastoral instrumentals and experimental post-rock. He even taught the kids in School of Rock how to… well, rock!

But this Sunday Classic is one of his ‘singer-songwriter’ albums, a seven song record of brittle guitar hooks, dark meditations and high-pop brilliance.
Jim O'Rourke - Insignificance
Insignificance is the third album released on the Drag City label, fellow Chicagoans and alternative music champions. It is also the third album to be directly named after a Nicolas Roeg film, following Eureka and Bad Timing. We know not why, but it always seems like an interesting thing to mention. For the majority, Insignificance is an absolute treat in melancholic pop. The mostly sumptuous songs and arrangements are as classic and timeless as Burt Bacharach or Harry Nilsson. Like Nilsson in particular, there is often the most darkness behind the sweetest swoon, songs about ageing and isolation with epic, sunny and unshakably melodic lifts. For all it’s carefully layered pop maximalism, Insignificance is also his loosest, with album opener ‘All Downhill from Here’ focused around one of the most enduring and rocking guitars riffs ever committed to tape; not to mention pounding drums right out of Ringo’s playbook. Guest appearances by Jeff Tweedy and Glenn Kotche of Wilco sure don’t hurt the album’s rich sonic drive either.

“O’Rourke carries it all off so elegantly that you’d think he’d address the trivial little matter of pop songcraft a little more often.” - Pitchfork

It’s an album of two sides. The first half - when it’s up - utilises falsetto chorus that would catch Brian Wilson’s ear, crunching guitar tones and such supreme pop songcraft to exultant effect. The elegant second side is more experimental, yet sedate. Sombre and swirling with pastoral folk loveliness, its beauty is crushing. Insignificance was full of subtlety when it was released. A sunny disposition and a sweet lull masking darkness and angst. Twenty years later it has lost none of its power, nuance or magic. It is really special for 101 different moments and seven really great songs.

* We don’t actually know and he might not either, but there ain’t a dull one in the set!