While his personal hygiene habits might be slightly suspect, Jim O’Rourke is one hell of a producer; ask anyone who’s heard Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
or Superchunk’s Come Pick Me Up
. Others may have noticed O'Rourke's keen sense for detecting talented young musicians like Kevin Drumm via his Moikai imprint. But what many people fail to remember is that O’Rourke is, first and foremost, a talented and versatile musician in his own right.
Something of a departure from past efforts, Insignificance sees O’Rourke eschewing pure pop and experimental weirdness in favor of a more structured, Todd Rundgren-inspired sound. In order to bring his rock ‘n roll dreams to life, O’Rourke has enlisted the help of indie stalwarts like Ken Vandermark, Rob Mazurek, Ken Champion and, in the spirit of returning favors, Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy and Glenn Kotchke. This group of players makes up the heart and soul of Insignificance.
The time that O'Rourke spent on the road with Sonic Youth has apparently had a major effect on him, because there’s never been anything as steadfastly rocking as "Therefore, I Am" on any of his previous outings. It’s made abundantly clear this time out that O'Rourke's chops extend far beyond the twiddling of knobs and arranging of horns, as the gnarly, Ronson-esque guitar and staccato rhythms of "Memory Lame" most tastefully affirm. Elsewhere, the jangly guitar and somewhat sloppy playing of opener "All Downhill from Here" seem miles removed from the carefully crafted studio pop songs of their predecessor, Eureka, while the maudlin almost-ballad "Good Times" betrays its name, favoring spookily resonant acoustic guitar and pedal-steel interplay. And in the six-minute-plus album closer "Life Goes Off", O’Rourke returns to familiar mid-tempo territory, flourishes of Powerbook noodling, pedal-steel and creamy piano riffs brightening the corners of this otherwise downtrodden paean to life gone awry.
Rarely has the indulgence of rock ‘n roll dreams sounded this concise. That’s why it’s fair to say that with Insignificance, Jim O’Rourke proves himself to be just as formidable a threat in front of the mixing desk as he is behind it.