O’Rourke spent the 1990s becoming a mainstay of the Chicago music scene with a strong presence in both Europe and Japan. Through solo releases, his post-rock duo Gastr Del Sol with David Grubbs, his experimental supergroup Brise-Glase, a stint with underground heroes Red Krayola, producing and mixing for a growing roster of artists pushing boundaries. and seemingly endless mixes with fellow visionaries from around the world, he had established himself as both a playful and cerebral musician, unafraid to push his crisp recordings into unfathomable elegance or inaudible noise depending on the song’s need. In 2001 he had recently moved to New York and was beginning to bond with high profile artists, first joining Sonic Youth and then giving Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot the reality-altering mixing work that sealed its status as a masterpiece.
O’Rourke had also gone for the accessible with his own solo releases through a streak of impressive records for Chicago’s legendary Drag City label. First was the hypnotic finger-style guitar work of 1997 Bad moment, then the 1998 inspired chamber pop offering Eureka and his soft folk-pop piece, 1999 Halfway to a threesome EP. Those albums developed much of the musical language that O’Rourke would deploy in Insignificance: the lush and often moody arrangements, the flowery and exploratory guitar work, the deadpan low-register vocal style. And then with Insignificancehe added a couple of full-blown rockers, bringing the same intricate detail to electrifying fuzzy pop songs like the fast-paced “Therefore, I am.”
Many other key figures in Chicago music Insignificance. Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy and Glenn Kotche, O’Rourke’s bandmates on Loose Fur, are throughout the record, Kotche blending in with percussionist Tim Barnes to create a unique and complex rhythmic backbone. Bassist Darin Gray from Brise-Glace is there, as are eminent jazz guys Rob Mazurek and Ken Vandermark on cornet and sax respectively. Veteran pedal steel guitarist Ken Champion, “a regular at Chicago indie rock sessions” at the time, lends a whiny charm to the quiet acoustic ballad “Good Times.” Together they blend into electro-acoustic suites reminiscent of ’70s classics, from Steely Dan to Jim Croce and Yes, all while maintaining the visceral feel of a fast, budget-conscious indie rock record. At the time, O’Rourke said he wasn’t happy with the mix, though he later told Stereogum that the album “came out pretty good considering how quickly I did it.”
Music so astonishingly beautiful exists as a lyric transmission system so hilariously petty it would make Randy Newman blush. You can get an idea of O’Rourke’s emotional disposition on the album packaging. Like Bad moment and Eureka before that, Insignificance It is named after a film by the disorienting British filmmaker Nicolas Roeg. Like Eureka, has a haunting cover by Japanese comic book artist Mimiyo Tomozawa. But even without those factors, you couldn’t miss the scorn that runs through these songs. O’Rourke goes above and beyond to convey it song after song, couplet after couplet. Bitterness is essential to the Insignificance experience: words that make you laugh but also flinch from time to time, as if to keep your delusions of grandeur in check.
O’Rourke once explained that most of these songs are sung by “people who are about to die,” which no doubt appears in “Get A Room,” a black comic portrait of a man on his deathbed. whose last moments are plagued by her date’s snoring: “And you try to move towards her / But you can’t move your shoulder / And your eyesight is getting dimmer / Maybe if you kick her.” A similar cackle can be had amid the falling drums and energetic acoustic strumming of “Memory Lame”, in which the narrator says sweet things like “Looking at you reminds me of looking at the sun / And how the blind are so lucky” . Other gossip on the album includes “We’re on a sinking ship / But I’d like to stay on board and fire your cannons” and “It would be so good, if you weren’t here / Empty air, where you used to stand” and even some criticism of fashion: “If you were to die with that thing on / You could have chosen a better style.”
In the following years InsignificanceO’Rourke continued to have a profound impact on mainstream indie-rock, but by the middle of the decade he was beginning to withdraw from that spotlight. He left Sonic Youth after 2004. Sonic nurse. In 2005 he moved to Japan, where he has remained ever since. Since 2013 he has maintained a prolific but irregular release schedule through Bandcamp, airing several new installments in his experimental Steam room series every year. It took him 14 years to continue Insignificance with another song-oriented album, 2015’s Simple songsand it is not known if another will arrive. Making fans wait indefinitely for greater guitar-pop splendor is rude and beautiful in its own way, which is to say that it is extremely Jim O’Rourke.