Even if you think that Jim O'Rourke is a bit of a perv (with covers as he's had on his last few releases, it's hard not to wonder what he's thinking), you pretty much have to admit that he's also hellaciously talented. Not only has he released a slew of his own material, ranging from abstract rock to electronic experimentalism. He's teamed up with everyone from Sonic Youth to Fennesz, and he most recently mixed Wilco's highly-praised Yankee Hotel Foxtrot album. Although his solo albums have been fairly solid to-date, Insignificance is the release that finds him hitting his stride completely, seemingly mixing little bits of all the different styles that he's poked around with and boiling it all down into a cohesive little release.
When I first plopped this release into my player and saw that it ran just 7 tracks and cruised in at right under 40 minutes, I thought maybe he was trying to get by on the sly by pushing out an EP and calling it an album, but there's enough going on within the course of the release that it satisfies pretty darn well. "All Downhill From Here" starts out the release with a downright classic rock feel, all boisterous guitar melodies and even some "whoo-whoo" lyrics, but it shards off into a delightful, breezy jazzy track about halfway through (ala Sam Prekop) before dropping back into the chunky riffs and back again. It's a completely fluid transition, and works like a charm, moving from arm-pumping singalong to moments of cooldown.
On the second track (the album-titled "Insignificance"), O'Rourke heads back into that somewhat breezy Chicago sound, mixing equal parts mellow guitar rock and pretty piano melody. It's a delightful track, and interesting given the somewhat bitter/frustrated vocals that seem to dominate the song and indeed most of the disc. The most rocking track arrives in the form of "Therefore, I Am," a track that riffs on a fairly simple two-chord progression for the verse before dropping off into lighter handclapping, sing-along choruses.
Speaking of plays on words, "Good Times" offsets what seems to be the happiest song title on the disc with what is probably the quietest and most introspective on the entire release. With only some nice pedal steel and acoustic guitar, O'Rourke drops one of his most plaintive songs ever, and it works quite well. The album closes out with "Life Goes Off," and it's a track that seems to distill nearly all the different sides of the multi-sided O'Rourke down into one amazing track. Starting out with some quiet percussion and acoustic guitar under his contemplative vocals, the programmed beat slowly builds up speed over the course of the track as more slide guitar and a harmony guitar melody play in as well. By the end of the track, the three guitar parts (two acoustic and one slide) are left alone with the frantic build, until they're all three swallowed by it and it morphs into waves of shimmering, gurgling electronics. Although it seems a somewhat odd way to end the album that didn't feature much electronic experimentation throughout the remainder, it's a near-perfect segue into his follow-up release, I'm Happy, And I'm Singing, And A 1, 2, 3, 4. If you're a fan of his slightly less-experimental work, Insignificance is easily his most consistent album yet (despite the dismissive title), and a great place to start if you haven't delved into his work yet.