As I mentioned the other day, there seems to be a covert return to the musical fray from Jim O’Rourke afoot. From being everywhere, not least in Sonic Youth, a few years ago, O’Rourke appeared to “retire” from music two or three years ago.
Now, it transpires, the great man has been “writing soundtracks for the Japanese film industry”. He has also, it seems, occasionally participated in free noise skronk-outs in Tokyo, as proved by “Mimidokodesuka” by Osorezan. Apparently, this collaboration with bassist Darin Gray and drummer Chris Corsano (who’s been playing with Bjork of late) came out in Japan in 2006, though it slipped my notice, I’m not ashamed to admit.
Fans of O’Rourke’s crafted singer-songwriter trips like “Eureka” and “Insignificance” – or even some of his laptop excursions – should be careful with this one, it’s fair to say, since it’s generally a rattling, cranked-up jam in which O’Rourke plays splattery note clusters on electric guitar (Derek Bailey is an admitted influence), while Corsano appears to be rhythmically falling over his kit.
Like most free jazz, I guess, these kind of exploratory cacophonies can be pretty hit and miss, and even I have a limited tolerance of them on CDs – although the actual gigs (this is a live recording) can be fun. But it’s identifiably the work of a musician being true to himself: O’Rourke told me, circa “Eureka”, that his horror of repeating himself extended to a dislike of playing ‘composed’ songs live. Gigs needed a spontaneity for him, which I suppose only authentically free improv can offer.
Anyway, “Mimidokodesuka” is one of two O’Rourke rarities being reissued by Drag City. The other is the one I keep coming back to: a set from 1991 called “Tamper”, which I’d never come across before. It dates from a period in his career which I’d always suspected of being rather industrial, focused on brutalist noise. But while the three compositions on “Tamper” are ostensibly noise-based, they’re often very subtle configurations of violin, oboe, cello and percussion that make up a kind of rustling drone.
The proper avant-garde comparison is probably with something like Lamonte Young, but a telling, more accessible reference is, oddly, O’Rourke’s latterday sparring partners, Wilco. The first track, “Spirits Never Forgive”, especially, reminds me of the wonderful, needling breakdown that split “Less Than You Think” wide open – and a track, I discover by skim-reading Wikipedia, that O’Rourke co-wrote as well as produced. Not a coincidence, I reckon.