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Jim O’Rourke

I’m Happy, And I’m Singing, And A 1,2,3,4

Rating: 3.5

Label: Editions Mego

This two-disc reissue boasts new cover art, yet-unheard material and the capacity to soften any doubting Thomas to electronic music at its most compelling. I’m Happy, And I’m Singing, And A 1,2,3,4, originally released in 2001, offers the best of O’Rourke’s impassioned tanglings with minimalism and concrète. He has magical powers not unlike those of Nancy Crater, a character who made her appearance in an early broadcast of the original Star Trek. Each of the Enterprise’s crew members experiences a completely different vision of her, depending on his ideals and standards; likewise, combing through O’Rourke’s long and involved career, some will hear an experimental guru, others a pop maven and then the scruffy-haired proponent of a dozen other sub-genres, in accordance with whatever catches the listener’s fancy. Darnell might have to call this album “ambient” while Kirk heralds it as “laptop noodling” and Bones dubs O’Rourke “chilling cerealist.” “Noise,” clamors Sulu! And how beguiling it all is: his charms are young and old, hammy and subtle at once. But unlike the ill famed Nancy Crater, O’Rourke doesn’t poison folks with intergalactic plantlife or drain their bodies of salt content. Otherwise described, he’s just a benevolent shape shifter. I’m Happy finds him in his computer element.

These songs require either a razor-sharp attention span or the willingness to zone out and ‘be one’ with the noise, so take your pick: “I’m Happy” makes a thin, chiming infinity of itself, “And I’m Singing” gives way to more sinewy glitch-pitch, “And A 1,2,3” draws out a deep, potentially maddening meditation of strings and androids in discourse. Disc 2 opens with a more defiant “Let’s Take it from the Top,” which scampers all over the map from pixellated feedback to robotic sound-offs. “Getting the Vapors” gets frankly atonal, and “He Who Laughs” dovetails the set like tubular bells on a spaceship until O’Rourke irreverently throws in some diabolical orchestral clips. Splashy distortion and impressionistic patterning gives this trio of previously unreleased material a more poetic feel, although it won’t do any favors for fans of O’Rourke in his folksier manifestation.

And that’s the catch with this re-issue: it likely won’t entirely please all of O’Rourke’s fans. It’s not an easy listen by any means, though as an artist O’Rourke has never pretended to be obvious or predictable. This reissue suggests that listeners need to come to O’Rourke on his terms. For those willing to accept those terms, I’m Happy will likely be worthwhile listen.

by Joan Wolkoff

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