Music reviews: Jim O'Rourke, Hot Chip, Thee Oh Sees
The press release for Jim O’Rourke’s sixth album says: “There ARE no simple songs – only simple people.”
Simple Songs may be the prolific indie avant-garde artist’s first conventional singer-songwriter “pop” album in well over a decade, but even compared to the vast scope of his experimental recordings, nothing the enigmatic O’Rourke does could ever be labelled simple. Songs with a verse and chorus are about as straightforward pop as the left-field guitarist gets.
The 1970s pop rock of Half Life Crisis begins like Elton John, with a stomping piano and sweet harmonies driving the song before drifting off into a carnival-esque outro. The theme runs throughout the record, the piano-led songs are layered with lush string arrangements that then begin to shift the track towards a more orchestral and abstract direction, the quiet vocals almost becoming insignificant as they are overawed by the colourful textures and instrumentation.
These may be simple songs in the eccentric mind of O’Rourke, but they still possess a magical and adventurous beauty.
Jim O’Rourke Simple Songs (Drag City Records)
Led by their main composer Joe Goddard and vocalist/keys man Alexis Taylor, London's indie electronic quintet Hot Chip are purveyors of organic dance music. Their warm, dense layers of electronic pop beats have always had a very human and introspective feel to them.
On Why Make Sense, their sixth album in a 15-year career, the late-night early hours vibe is amplified by the live instrumentation, most notably by touring drummer Sarah Jones, that further lends an intimate yet more spacious natural sound. There are few repetitive beats and hand-in-the-air club tunes: this is all about the phat funk'n'groove.
Taking its cues as much from 1980s hip hop and R&B as '90s house music, the Prince-y retro funk of Love is the Future includes a verse of old school rap by De La Soul's old-school rapper, Posdnuos. The bass continues to funk out on the infectious Easy to Get while the closing title track is a stunning synth and drum freak-out.
Why Make Sense makes perfect sense for people who don't like electronic dance music, and for those who love it.
Hot Chip Why Make Sense (Domino)
Occasionally, for no explicable reason, some bands just pass you by. Maybe that first song you heard by them just rubbed you up the wrong way. Perhaps it was simply the bass player's bad haircut that turned you off. Sometimes your next favourite band can be sitting there right in front of you, unnoticed for years. For me, Thee Oh Sees are one such band.
I had read about their incendiary live shows, but had never heard their psychedelic garage punk noise - until now. Stumbling across something as revelatory as Mutilator Defeated at Last is an unexpected thrill. It moves with ease from the darkly sinister ( Web), through thunderous fuzz riffing ( Withered Hand and Turned Out Light) to groovy stoner meanderings ( Sticky Hulks). The guitar freak-out of Lupine Ossuary is simply beastly.
I had no expectations of Mutilator … for all I knew this could be the worst album the band have ever put out, leaving diehard fans weeping in disbelief. But for me, it's their finest album to date. A rocket-fuelled gem. Now I have at least another 10 of their previous efforts to sink my teeth into.
Thee Oh Sees Mutilator Defeated At Last (Castle Face Records)