Pop: This Week's Album Releases - Jim O'Rourke Eureka, Domino

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The Independent Culture
IF EVER proof were needed of the major labels' shameful incompetence, it can be found in the comparative performance of the tiny UK-based indie label Domino, a hotbed of taste and creativity, rather than accountancy. Following recent beauties by Smog and Bonnie "Prince" Billie, this delightful offering from Jim O'Rourke means that three of the year's five best albums so far have been released by Domino - a phenomenal achievement, only slightly tarnished by the fact that all three artists are American.

Chicago-based O'Rourke is better known as a producer of diverse interests, mostly of a post-rock persuasion: he's helmed records by Smog, Stereolab and Faust, though for substantial stretches of Eureka, it's another of his clients - the guitar genius John Fahey - whose work springs to mind. The album opens with a gentle version of Ivor Cutler's pro-feminist ode "Women of the World" set to acoustic guitar and strings, with O'Rourke's lone voice gradually joined by others as the song grows from wan optimism to a kind of benevolent communality.

It's entirely engaging, rather in the manner of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra; elsewhere, there are echoes of John Cale's Paris 1919 and the solo albums of Van Dyke Parks in tracks such as "Movie on the way Down" and "Through the Night Slowly", titles perfectly evocative of the way O'Rourke's dense, luxurious music develops with unhurried assurance. Then, just as you think you've got him pegged as an atmospheric impressionist, he hits you with the lovely Latin lilt of Burt Bacharach's "Something Big", the kind of song that even Bacharach doesn't write these days.

It's easy to get lost in the lush folds of this music, as a track which opens with languid clarinet slips into a hazy melange of strings, steel pans and piano, before a rousing sax solo leads to an organ and piano coda. Is this one song, or three? And where are the joins? The sheer range of instrumental voices on Eureka defies simple assimilation: keening strings, ruminant horns, Latin percussion, pedal steel guitar, layered harmonies and various backward loops, all stirred into a sound that borders on pop, avant-garde and lounge muzak, without settling into one particular style.

It's aptly titled, too: the unfathomable density of the music, and the subtlety of O'Rourke's methods, renders each play a voyage of discovery, as previously submerged elements suddenly float to the surface. The kind of record that always sounds new, no matter how many times you've heard it.