Jim O'Rourke

The Visitor

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Given the sheer experimentalism of his past recordings, whether in pop or experimental music, Jim O’Rourke is an enigmatic guitarist, producer, engineer, and composer, but he’s not one who can be placed into a box. Throughout his own career as a solo artist -- even across his previous four albums on Drag City that go back a decade -- he’s never repeated himself, nor has he sold his ambition short. The Visitor is a single 38-minute piece of instrumental music recorded with conventional instruments -- acoustic, electric, and pedal steel guitars; piano; clarinet; banjo; organ; cello; harmonica; drums; etc. By O'Rourke’s count, it took over 200 recorded parts to create it. He exhorts listeners to “listen on speakers, loud.” There’s a reason for this. Its meticulous sound design and sense of space and sonic placement are paramount. It’s very physical music, and therefore a physical space is required -- not the inner one of headphones where more focus would be placed on some of the effects used than the instrumentation and composition -- to capture the many subtleties present in the music itself. There are seemingly endless melodies, themes, variations, and vamps in "The Visitor": instruments are played solo at times or combined in ever new ways; tempos shift; major keys change and morph; elements of folk, country, jazz, and even polished '70s-style rock guitar pyrotechnics are melded into this seamless whole that travels vast distances without ever going anywhere. None of O'Rourke's motifs or themes is resolved; none points logically to whatever comes next or comes back again. The entire piece of music is as lovely, elegant, and beautiful as any "pop" or contemporary instrumental recording you’ve heard in decades (or maybe ever), but without the effect of closure as if the work is ever finished. Some listeners may be frustrated by this method of creation and dub The Visitor an overly long, easy listening exercise -- albeit one of excess -- but that would not only be incorrect, it would be ridiculous. Everything here, as lovely and beautifully played and arranged as it is, is precise, sharp, and purposeful. That the listening experience is so pleasant makes it all the more difficult to pinpoint the strategy at work because the music itself is so labyrinthine, but then, that’s a large part of the fun. If ever there were an award given for “most confounding pop instrumental recording,” The Visitor would win hands down.

Track Listing

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