Jim O’Rourke was a household name in electronic music and indie rock in the late 1990s to the mid-2000s. He assured quality music whenever his name was associated with a particular record and was heavily involved in some of the best works in electronic music and indie rock. For example, he collaborated with artists such as Beth Orton, John Fahey, Superchunk, and Smog among others. Most of his earlier works consisted of complicated melodies and lavish productions: a good example is his song “Eureka”.
In Simple Songs, he sounds almost normal with a profound and gruff voice in all eight tracks of this record. The words are his typical mix of misanthropy and a combination of dark humour with some hints of warmth.
Simple Songs commences with the track titled “Friends with benefits”, the song starts with “nice to see you again” and for a moment, it sounds like he is addressing his fans who have not heard his music in a very long time. What follows acts as a confirmation because he later sings “it’s been a long time my friends since you crossed my mind”. From this point, you realise the reality of the context in this record.
The song “Hotel Blue” is the perfect example of O’Rourke’s understanding of music, the song blends the snare, strings, piano and an acoustic guitar effortlessly: the song has a growling and grand climax. In “All your love”, he finds his dark self, the song has bouncing piano lines and cymbal highlights. The chorus is somewhat contradictory to the title of the song because he later sings “all your love will never change me”.
The best parts of this record are O’Rourke’s art of arrangement, and the instruments are properly layered together. The chords are well voiced with a continuous harmonic progression. Most of the instruments in this record are played by himself including the brass and strings. In addition, O’Rourke has a Tokyo-based band of musicians who help him in the incorporation of pedal steel, woodwinds, and horns that are prevalent in this album.
Simple Songs has brilliant instrumental bridges alongside codas, and this is evident in the song “Half Life Crisis”, if you listen carefully, an electric guitar and a pedal steel compliment the violin line for a classic tune. In this album, every instrument is almost played to perfection for the right mix, the music dynamics such as boom and midrange have been used equally.
The album is perfectly titled because all the tracks stay away from the extremes: it is as if O’Rourke is over the idea of producing pop music. It is an example of meta-pop with an orchestra. For the fans, who are eager to listen to him, this album will entertain you. In contrast, he has a long way to go to become a central figure once again. After moving to Tokyo, it’s like he has distanced himself with some of his international fans, he needs to continually produce records to get us used to his new sound and style.