Thoughts: “Fast Car” by Jim O’Rourke

I’m of the opinion that Jim O’Rourke is one of the most talented and versatile musicians of our time. He’s played with and produced countless bands, including a lot of well-known acts like Sonic Youth, Wilco, Will Oldham, and Joanna Newsom. His releases range from pleasant jazz pop to noisy free improvisation to soothing folk to meditative glitch and progressive electronic, and he shows no sign of slowing down with his eclecticism or prolificity anytime soon.

The section of O’Rourke’s catalog that most appeals to me, however, is his work with drone, mainly the warm acoustic style pioneered by legends like Tony Conrad, La Monte Young, and other members of the Dream Syndicate. A prime example of this is 1997’s Happy Days, a 47-minute composition that blends O’Rourke’s penchant for minimalism-influenced guitar playing with calming, meditative violin drones. This was my favorite thing he had done – up until yesterday, that is, when I first heard the song “Fast Car.”

It’s taken from an unofficial recording of a live set in Japan in 2002, during which O’Rourke was touring in support of his 2001 record Insignificance. The first five songs of this performance are great, mainly consisting of solo guitar and vocal renditions of tracks from Insignificance and Halfway to a Threeway, an EP from ’99. But nothing can prepare for the sheer beauty and happiness that permeates the closing track, “Fast Car.” Opening with a looping sample of Tracy Chapman’s iconic guitar motif from her song of the same name, it features O’Rourke’s own version of the lyrics as more instruments build behind the repeating sample. Subtly, to the point where I barely realized it was happening, the lively acoustic melodies are overtaken by impossibly lush layers of comforting drones. Nowhere else has music so perfectly captured the feeling of a warm blanket and a cup of hot chocolate after a long day in the cold (it could just be that it was freezing cold yesterday; I’d imagine this song would also be applicable during a sunny summer day). Towards the end of the piece, the melodies return, with O’Rourke beautifully tagging the chorus of Chapman’s classic before bringing everything to a close with soft guitar meanderings. It’s a perfect marriage of his folk pop sensibilities and his more abstract inclinations, and in the process it creates probably the most uplifting sounds I have ever heard. Highly recommended (click the picture next to this paragraph to go to a youtube upload of the track).

Thoughts: Claustration by Vomir

Harsh noise wall is a pretty controversial genre. The main argument I’ve heard against it is that it takes no effort or musical talent to fill up a tape with an unchanging, dynamic-less wall of sound. And I’d partially agree with that. But the thing that makes this music (yes, I’d definitely call it that) so fascinating to me is how unique its preparation is, even compared to other types of noise music. For most HNW artists, almost all of the creativity put forward to make walls is used to set up and make the sound, and not actually to sustain or change it. And these artists are judownloadedfile-15st as creative as any others, so they make some pretty amazing stuff.

Vomir is probably the prime example of this, at least for me. He has no ulterior motives, no pretentious explanation of what his music means; he just makes it to make it, because he enjoys it and hopes other people do too. And the process is much more involved than naysayers would lead you to believe. It’s almost dizzying the amount of pedals and effects he utilizes to meticulously craft hypnotic, psychedelic, crushingly heavy noise. The lack of dynamics isn’t a disadvantage; instead, I find myself getting lost in these darkly lush walls.

2388418

This is taken to an extreme on 2008’s Claustration. Originally released as a 6-CD box set, which comprises five parts of the titular piece as well as five untitled tracks, the album runs for over five hours. Yes, five hours of unrelenting harsh noise wall. Is there anything more intimidating? I’m not sure, but I can definitely think of worse ways to pass the time I spent listening to the entirety of Claustration. The album was in my ears from 6:02 to 11:27 yesterday, accompanying me through dinner, homework, grocery shopping, almost getting run over by an idiot driver in the pouring rain, and sitting outside in the dark. It was a unique, confusing, captivating, and, ultimately, enjoyable experience. I’ve never felt so isolated by music before, the rumbling, warm noise wrapping itself around me and not letting go until the end.

I can’t say it’s something I’ll do very often, but I also can’t say I regret it. Maybe I convinced you that HNW is a viable art form. Maybe I didn’t. Either way, hopefully you’ll try out Claustration sometime. (If it really is too long I recommend either Black Bag or Portrait Series #6, two other excellent Vomir projects.)