Jim O’Rourke, “Simple Songs”
As the ’90s were wrapping up, the oft avant-garde (and generally unpredictable) Jim O’Rourke emerged with his breakthrough album Eureka—a stunningly arranged pop album in the mold of great albums by Robert Wyatt and Van Dyke Parks. It was full of ambitious, emotional songs with heft and no irony. An album and an EP followed that carried the same melodic majesty, but then O’Rourke joined Sonic Youth, dove deep into producing, and moved to Japan. He hadn’t made a pop album since, until now. Simple Songs is a return to structured songs after nearly fifteen years and it’s a brilliant, biting album. The album is pristinely produced, with songs that echo the big rock and California-centered records of the ’70s and O’Rourke literally belting out choruses. None of this is done with a wink, but with precision and craft, creating a dense, often stunningly inventive album.