Band: Jim O’Rourke
Album: Eureka
Best song: “Something Big” and the title track are great.
Worst song: “Happy Holidays” is not really needed.

I started college in the fall of 1999 after spending my high school years trying to understand the Chicago underground music scene. When I got to college, I gravitated right toward the radio station and KCOU became the thing that defined my college time, for the most part. I idolized the older DJs. I desperately wanted to be like them, in one way or another.

Because of my fandom of the Chicago labels of the era — Southern, Thrill Jockey, Drag City, Touch & Go/Quarterstick, etc. — my knowledge of music stemmed from those bands. It was around this time that Archer Prewitt’s White Sky was released, reviewed at our station by one of the older DJs I idolized. In his review, he mentioned how incestous the Chicago post-rock scene was at the time, which got me to thinking about the connections between every band in the scene and the tentacles each band had in one another. Much was in contributor lines, but a lot of artists produced other artists. So, I did the stupidest, most time-wastiest things I’ve ever done: I made a web drawing (sorta like this) of the connections between bands. Bob Weston was in Volcano Suns, but also produced June of 44. June of 44 members were in Rodan with Tara Jane O’Neil who was in the Rachel’s for an album, etc. The map/web took up pages and pages that I’d taped together and I even scanned it. I wish I still had the paper or the scanned jpgs, but I have neither. All that work for nothing.

This is all leadup to say that two people were near the center of this document, both for their production and guest work: Steve Albini and Jim O’Rourke.

There are some artists who can do one thing well and keep doing it (Archer Prewitt is like this or, more famously, Neil Young), while others can master different styles. Jim O’Rourke’s an extremely versatile songwriter, producer and musician. His most known work is probably his production of Wilco, but he’s produced numerous other wonderful bands including Melt Banana, Storm&Stress, Sam Prekop and Smog. He is also well-known for being a member of Sonic Youth for years, recording several albums with them. In addition to Sonic Youth, O’Rourke was also member of the Red Krayola, Loose Fur, Brise-Glace, Gastr Del Sol, the Supreme Indifference and a bunch of other bands.

Jim O’Rourke’s solo work spans the gamut from experimental improvisational works to completely realized melodic folk rock. I’m Happy and I’m Singing and a 1, 2, 3, 4 is three songs (fourty minutes) of guitar work and atmosphere, while Halfway to a Threeway is misanthropic pop music. Even in miniature as in his quartet of records named after Nicolas Roeg movies, O’Rourke spans the gamut. I’ve written about Insignificance in this space with regards to its maturity, but melodically and musically, it is easily the most accesible of O’Rourke’s work. The Visitor is sprawling and wonderful, but hardly accessible.

Eureka is somewhere in between. There are sparks of accessibliity, but longer tracks soundtrack the record. In classic O’Rouke fashion, he thumbs his nose at commercialism in the titles; “PLease Patronise Our Sponsors” is, point of fact, one of the best songs on the record. But, he’s also working something larger. The album’s title track has movements to it, all sweetly falling into one another and out of one another by the time the song finished. The opener is similarly constituted, with O’Rourke repeatedly intoning the song’s only lyrics (“Women of the world take over/’Cause if you don’t the world will come to an end/And it won’t take long”), taken from Ivor Cutler
. As with all things O’Rourke, it’s nearly impossible to tell the sincerity of the lyrics, but they work perfectly, nonetheless.

O’Rourke’s guitar work is unparalleled, no question, and is one of the highlights of the record. “Ghost Ship in a Storm” is slowly picked and tells as much of a story as any guitar line does, before the piano, drums and O’Rourke’s voice comes into the song. “Movie on the Way Down” features a trumpet over the minimalist guitar work and his cover of Burt Bacharch’s “Something Big” is stereophonic in its AM-radio quality folkiness, even with the ladies’ chorus coming into the song.

Halfway to a Threeway is probably O’Rourke’s most fully-realized solo work, but Eureka is similarly well constructed. It’s interesting when it needs to be, obtuse when it needs to be and all interesting.

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  • About Me

    I'm Ross Jordan Gianfortune. I am not a writer, but I sometimes write here about music and my life. I live in Washington, DC.

    I used to review each of Rolling Stone Magazine's top 500 albums of all time. Now I'm writing about albums I own.

    My work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Gazette, The Atlantic, Sno-Cone and a bunch of defunct zines.

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