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Originally published on Blast (1999)
by ?

Musical mad-scientist, highbrow avant-rock composer, manic guitarist, and improvisational genius Jim O’Rourke has been sculpting his own path through musical history by transcending many avenues of musical expression for over a decade. "I’ve never thought of things in terms of genres," He chuckles. "Anyone who is under the age of 35 grew up in record culture, and the idea of breaking up what you like into genres has always seemed very strange to me. ’Transcend’ sounds like a loaded term."
O’Rourke’s back catalogue consists of well over 200 recordings. In addition to his own solo releases, his resume includes appearances on albums by everyone from post-industrial noise makers Illusion of Safety and Brise-Glace, to less abrasive acts such as Smog, Gastr del Sol, and the legendary John Fahey. In addition to producing the Fahey’s 1997 album Womblife, the two have worked together on several occasions, but the fruit of their ventures remains unreleased. "I met John Fahey through Table of the Elements," said Jim. "We met and got along really well, and have toured and recorded some stuff together but nothing has been released. We’re hoping to put out a box set of some older material in the future, but nothing is certain."
While O’Rourke does speak highly of certain past recordings he has participated in, he’s much more critical of others. "Luckily, a lot of those older recordings are gone," says O’Rourke. "With a lot of that stuff it sort of feels like I was growing up in public. I think of a lot of them as failures," he continued. "Brise-Glace was only semi-successful, I don’t even think about Gastr del Sol anymore, and I tend to shy away from anything recorded before Rules of Reduction. Also, I wasn’t fully involved with a lot of those recordings. They weren’t my bands," he went on to say. "I’m not in Chicago too often these days either. I was doing a lot of that stuff there. I did a 12" remix for Tortoise a while back and I see them a lot. John [McEntire] and I worked on Sam Prekop’s album and we see each other quite a bit."
O’Rourk’s most recent offering, Eureka, takes the scope of his vision to incredible new dimensions. This is a lush and skillfully orchestrated pop-album, it is also his first solo album to come complete with vocals. Rich in a myriad of influences ranging from elements of space-age lounge music and psychedelic folk to the Smog inspired lyrics of "Ghost Ship in a Storm" and "Movie on the Way Down." This album seems unusually relaxed especially for a first time attempt at consistent vocalizations. "I try not to think about it," he says bashfully. "This album may sound different from some of my older albums but I think a lot of the same ideas are there. Its just different material. I haven’t trained my voice at all," he added. "The way I sing is the way the words come out of my mouth. I do think Bill [Callahan, of Smog] and I are coming from a lot of the same areas. We’re both a couple of misanthropes, although I wouldn’t want to say that for Bill, but he’s been a bit of an inspiration. I’ve also been really inspired by a lot of Sparks’ lyrics too. I’ve always thought the balance between misanthropy and humor found in their lyrics was great." With contributions from Jeb Bishop, as well as Edith Frost and Tim Barnes, this may be the most appropriate time for O’Rourke to take his act on the road.
But seeing these songs performed live doesn’t sound likely. "I don’t like going on tour," he adds reluctantly. "I don’t mind playing in someone’s group, but I don’t like going on stage and playing my own stuff. I’ve done some touring with John Fahey, and just the other night I went to see Sam Prekop and Aerial M. During the show they asked me to get up on stage and play an impromptu set with them. So I did and it was a lot of fun. But my music is my music, and I don’t like standing up there with all those people looking at me."
With homages to Scottish poet and song writer Ivor Cutler, and American pop icon of the ’60s and ’70s Burt Bacharach, this is a very love-seat-friendly album. Even so it seems to have something unsettling hiding beneath the surface. O’Rourke makes strange juxtapositions work surprisingly well, like reworkings of Cutler’s "Women of the World" and Bacharach’s "Something Big," coupled with elements of space-rock, jazz and string compositions. Even more unsettling is the coupling of O’Rourke’s music with the album’s artwork. The cover art sports a pastel drawing of a pudgy naked Asian man in a compromising position with a very cute and fuzzy bunny. But that’s not all. As if the cover art weren’t enough, the inner sleeve unfolds to reveal a poster sized illustration of a naked man standing in a field of grass. By his feet are a pair of nun-chucks, and a parked bicycle. His back to the viewer, he is staring off into the sky where a ghost like image of Bruce Lee is emerging from the clouds, his right arm extended in a Karate chop. "The two paintings were done by Japanese artists," said O’Rourke. "The inside picture was done by Ma Sekiguchi and the cover art was done by Mimyo Tomozawa. Other Music in New York City had a window box display of the album’s cover art in their front window that had to be taken down. I guess enough people complained about it that their landlord made them pull it," he continued. "Of course the other day I went down to the store and noticed that the Tower Records store across the street has a picture of Li’l Kim in their front window that is much much worse. But that’s life."
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