Jim O’Rourke – Eureka 

A record I’ve been looking forward to impatiently is Jim O’Rourke’s Eureka. Much-tagged as O’Rourke’s grand pop move, this one – after 17’s magically pretty/peaceful Bad Timing, I was slavering at the idea of his moving even further into that record’s soundworld of wry, melodic, touching pop with just the slightest tincture of an experimental sensibility. A track given away by the absurdly generous Uncut just got me sweating further.

I should have remembered Gastr Del Sol, and last year’s Camofleur, which also came heralded as the avant-garde somehow discovering pop (oh yeah – ‘pop’ here means Brian Wilson, Jack Nitsche, and all the other long-rehabilitated studio explorers and arrangers, rather than, say, Billie or Master P. So bear that in mind.). That sounded fine on first listen, and then David Grubbs’ crappy lyrics and mumbly vocals and the general self-consciousness of the whole project took a heavy toll on me. Eureka is strides beyond Camofleur, but there’s still a cloying indie-ness which hangs heavy on the record’s slower moments, when O’Rourke’s perky voice goes all thoughtful, and the sounds get more ambient. The title track is nothing if not well-produced and interesting, but it’s not the full-scale turn towards beauty that the opening Women Of The Worldseemed to herald.

Women… gives a fine indication of where Eureka succeeds powerfully. Over eight minutes, as O’Rourke sweetly sings the simple lyric, the arrangement builds and builds from its fingerpicked beginnings into a jewelbox of baroque elegance. Its impact isn’t profound or directly emotional, more lying in an indirect feeling of goodness elicited by simple contemplation of the bright, subtle music. The rest of Eureka doesn’t quite hit that peak, though, preferring to hopscotch through mournfully aqueous instrumental bits reminiscent of Talk Talk, a (good) Bacharach cover, a stomping slice of prog-pop with Floydian dynamics, sundry melodic slowies a la Plush….it’s all very appealing and I half suspect that after living with it for a few months more I’ll be loving every minute, but right now it feels oddly pointless, feckless even, neither a wholehearted embracing of pop music nor any kind of redefinition of it, and full of unkept promise.