By Jason Herring, June 18 2015 —
Jim O’Rourke is the most prolific musician you’ve probably never heard of. As a producer, he’s worked with acts like Wilco, Sonic Youth and Joanna Newsom. He’s released albums of classical, noise, rock and electronic music as a solo artist. But his latest album, Simple Songs, is a beautiful collection of tracks where O’Rourke settles for more typical songwriting.
Though the songs on Simple Songs are conventional, they aren’t simple — despite the album’s title. The tracks are layered and complex, with intricacies that don’t reveal themselves until repeated listens. Simple Songs isn’t an album most will love immediately, but it’s immensely rewarding to listen through.
A highlight of the album is the opening track, “Friends with Benefits” — a song that starts off as an energetic rock song before exploding into a swell of strings at the climax. Another gem is the final track, “All Your Love,” which serves as a cinematic send-off for the album.
O’Rourke’s lyrics are wry and filled with sarcastic asides. This is evident on the forlorn track “End of the Road,” where he sings “a castoff has no need to find his way ashore, because nothing beats a holiday in the sun.” O’Rourke’s cynicism works well and listening to his snide remarks is entertaining.
With O’Rourke’s impressive production resume, it’s odd that the one place Simple Songs falls short is its mixing. Through most of the album, O’Rourke’s vocal tracks are quieter than the backing instrumentation, making it hard to hear what he’s saying. It’s a bizarre flaw from such a renowned producer.
Aside from that, Simple Songs is a sonic masterpiece that only gets better with repeated listens. O’Rourke’s sharp wit combines with commanding musical control to make Simple Songs one of this year’s best.