As major labels continue to exist behind the times, artists and labels with little capital and lesser reputations are producing some of the most innovative, interesting, and inspiring music. Whether it’s creating a new niche in digital technology or looking to once obsolete formats, Agitated Atmosphere hopes to shed a bit of light and share a bit of information on the up and coming sounds of artists such as Jim O’Rourke.
Agitated Atmosphere has focused on plenty of small run labels and demassified artists in the hope of better understanding the vast music market beyond the major labels and the digital age, but it’s a fair assumption to believe many of the labels floating in complete autonomy would be hard pressed to think of their successes without inclusion of Jim O’Rourke. O’Rourke may be known for his solo albums on more visible labels, as well as his work with indie favorites such as Wilco, Sonic Youth, and Loose Fur but his canon is long with collaborations of every fashion; on labels of every shape and size. There have been jaunts to frenzied electro-orgies, meditative guitar duos, and painstaking compositions all under the O’Rourke banner; yet most fans excitedly point to his ‘pop’ albums as continued sources of enjoyment.
The Visitor, the first of these pop albums in nearly 8 years, was recently released by O’Rourke’s rather visible label partner, Drag City (who also work with O’Rourke’s reissue/re-exploration label, Dexter’s Cigar). Comparisons have flown left and right around The Visitor: many honing in on its similarities with the orchestral pop complexities of Eureka, many hearing the lighthearted plucks of Halfway to a Threeway. They are all right, as O’Rourke’s singular 40 minute construct is everything we’ve come to embrace about his previous pop albums all the while keeping with the tradition of pushing the envelope further.
O’Rourke has produced many lengthy pieces, so The Visitor‘s length is not unusual. The breezy riffs and angelic piano amidst rolling toms and changing tempos are also all too familiar, but when it’s been 8 long years since this sound has been emitted from the hands of Jim O’Rourke, it seems fresh once more. The Visitor poses the problem of trying to explain O’Rourke’s music considering it takes its cue from so many of his past solo albums but always sticking true to the more ‘accessible’ parts of his musical dialogue. It’s a retrospective of his pop offerings, compiled, rearranged, and updated with a decade’s worth of growth behind each and every note. As the title implies, O’Rourke just seems to be visiting with us through the album’s duration. It’s a pleasant affair with tea attire and a wry sense of humor required. At the end of the day when O’Rourke parts with our company, we’ll always have The Visitor as a priceless chotchkie to fondling remember him by.
Justin Spicer is a freelance journalist who also runs the webzine, Electronic Voice Phenomenon. He writes the Monday News Mash-Up and Thursday edition of Song of the Day for the KEXP Blog. You can follow him on Twitter.