Jim O’Rourke – The Visitor – Two Nice Catholic Boys

Jim O’Rourke – The Visitor (Drag City)Jim O’Rourke & Loren Connors – Two Nice Catholic Boys (Family Vineyard)

Jim O’Rourke has been rather quiet of late; many of the albums he’s released have been reissues (such as the excellent Fenn O’Berg discs) or work from the dim and distant past. As part of the clear out we have Two Nice Catholic Boys, an album of electric guitar improvisations from 1997. Recorded with Loren Connors at various locations in Europe this is a challenging work. Those used to the rockier stuff he recorded with Wilco or Sonic Youth will find few hooks to latch onto. Opener Maybe Paris kicks off with discordant feedback before paring the noise right back. Then we have meandering spider-like guitar lines that are pleasant enough but which don’t particularly go anywhere. Or Possibly Koln starts in an ominous fashion with thick slabs of feedback. We get a drone with sharp blasts of guitar over the top. The blasts become more insistent, the drone more the sound of a wounded animal. Around the ten-minute mark all becomes quiet and the guitars return to the plaintive mode of Maybe Paris. The third and final track, Most Definitely Not Koln, starts slowly, the guitars sliding and scraping past each other. As the track progresses so the scrapes and howls build and build into a spiky, shrieky wall of feedback.

Of course, as well recording improvisational albums O’Rourke has also turned his hand to pretty much every other genre too – drone, folky finger-picking and lap-top electronica. He’s even written pop albums. Well, pop in the broader sense of the word: his work won’t be mistaken for Girls Aloud any time soon. The Visitor is a welcome addition to the list. Just to prove that O’Rourke’s skills know no end he plays every instrument on the album. That includes guitar (electric, acoustic and slide), banjo, drums, keyboards, woodwind instruments and violin. More than that he fashions, from well over 200 separate recordings, a single thirty-eight minute track.

The result is a beautifully nuanced album, albeit one that defies easy categorisation. It’s elegant and dainty, subdued and playful. It’s sophisticated but also fun, immediately appealing but also revealing great depths on future plays. The single track never climaxes or offers a resolution: instead it continually teases the listener, suggesting directions that the album might take whilst never actually going there. What we get, then, is O’Rourke conducting from the centre, arranging all the multiple parts and never allowing one too much focus or freedom. It’s a brilliantly conceived work, perfectly executed and an unalloyed joy to listen to.

Words: Chris Dawson