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Jim O’Rourke - I’m Happy, and I’m Singing, and a 1, 2, 3, 4 (Reissue)

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Artist: Jim O’Rourke

Album: I’m Happy, and I’m Singing, and a 1, 2, 3, 4 (Reissue)

Label: Editions Mego

Review date: May. 14, 2009

I’m Happy, and I’m Singing, and a 1, 2, 3, 4 was recorded live in various locations between 1997and 1999 and first released in 2001. It has now been unavailable for some five years, so this is a welcome reissue, particularly as three extra tracks have been added to the original’s three, extending their 41 minutes by another hour.

In 2001, the album stimulated considerable debate. Released soon after O’Rourke’s Nicolas Roeg trilogy, with its populist guitar-focussed rock, the album suffered by comparison. Its jolly title raised hopes of a folksy sing-along, hopes that were at odds with the laptop music within – he didn’t sound happy and he sure wasn’t singing. In fact, the album became a focus for some anti-laptop bias, drawing more than a few snide comments.

For much of the time, O’Rourke re-imagines minimalism, owing particular debts to early Terry Riley and Steve Reich. After a stuttering start, “I’m Happy” piles layer upon layer of organ loops to create a multi-textured collage that makes an eloquent advertisement for laptops in music. Never merely a drone piece, the track has a wealth of shifting detail that only reveals itself upon repeated listening. The piece concludes satisfactorily with the layers gradually pared away, revealing a slowly-fading low frequency ambient drone.

In contrast, “And I’m Singing” is a cautionary tale about the perils of laptop abuse. It opens with sound effects – ticking clocks, chiming bells – that dissolve into a passage of distorted percussion and random noise. Musically, the piece lacks subtlety and coherence, and feels too much like a sampler of laptop techniques.

Evidence suggests that the longer O’Rourke lets a track drag on, the more he likes it. “And A 1, 2, 3, 4,” at over 21 minutes, supports this. Of the three tracks it is the sparest; it avoids clutter and allows every sound to be savoured. Juxtaposing strings with electronics, it creates a shimmering soundscape that evolves slowly, never sounding rushed or hurried, with everything seeming to happen naturally and at its own pace. A mesmerising piece.

Of the three (relatively) new tracks, the main course if the 39-minute “Getting the Vapors.” O’Rourke’s laptop supplies sounds more akin to electric guitar and modulated sine waves, at times reminiscent of a sitar’s drone strings. He keeps the piece fresh by constantly changing the foreground sounds, giving it an ever-shifting kaleidoscopic quality before it fades back into the silence from which it emerged. The album closes with collectable curio “He Who Laughs,” at one time a limited edition one-sided Swedish 12” whose resale value just went kaput. All in all, a great and worthwhile reissue.

By John Eyles

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