Jim O'Rourke Shows Off Chops and Songwriting on New Album

Jim O'Rourke, The Visitor (Drag City)

For the last 15 years, the guitarist Jim O'Rourke has been the Kevin Bacon of left-field music. Artists as different as Jeff Tweedy, Joanna Newsom, Stereolab, and Derek Bailey are all connected by his contributions as either a performer or producer, and his work, either solo or in collaboration with Sonic Youth, Gastr del Sol, and Loose Fur, has ranged from quiet, Michael Hedges-style acoustic guitar to electric jazz freakouts. His remarkable new album, The Visitor, reflects both the variety of O'Rourke's career so far and the singular vision that puts such disparate sources together in a way that makes perfect sense.

The new disc, O'Rourke's first solo record in eight years, consists of a single 38-minute song with no vocals; each of the multiple instrumental tracks were recorded in a single take by O'Rourke in his Tokyo apartment. It's essentially a long narrative, an exploration of a theme set out in the opening seconds. The story ebbs and flows, with O'Rourke switching between acoustic and electric guitar and adding and dropping other instrumental embellishments like organ and piano, clarinet, banjo, and horns along the way. (He learned how to play the trombone specifically for this record.) The transitions from New Age interludes to jazz fusion crescendoes are subtle and fluid; O'Rourke bridges seemingly disconnected forms with surprising ease. And it's not just his chops—his compositional skill is key to The Visitor's success.

O'Rourke intends you to hear the subtleties, too. The Visitor is only available as an LP or CD; there's no official digital release.