Genre infidel Jim O'Rourke, now a member of Sonic Youth, has traversed through experimental, improv and post-rock territory and left his calling card. Now, on Insignificance, he infuses rock with a sardonic and punchy accessibility, singing over the melodic stammer of "Memory Lame," "Those things will kill ya/ But so could your face." Perhaps referring to the hoopla caused by his public utterances and putdowns, he also intones: "These things I say might seem to offend/ But not half as much as I'd like to intend/ 'Cos listening to you reminds me of/ Motor's endless drone/ And how the deaf are so damn lucky." On "Therefore I Am," he sings, "I've traveled 'round the world/ I've seen so many things/ Why'm I talking to you?" Welcome to Cutting Lyrics 'R' Us. With a self-deprecating title such as Insignificance, perhaps the album's putdown humor isn't a surprise.
Most of the recording unfolds at a fast clip. Album kickstarter "All Downhill From Here" revs up the mood like a car racing down a dragstrip, an effect enhanced by the "woo hoo"s that close the song. Insignificance's rapid-fire pace suggests a foot-on-the-accelerator/hands-tapping-the-wheel mood, but on the flip side, the album slows down to a contemplative canter. "Good Times" consists of minimalist strumming and the occasional rise of a pedal steel, quiet as grief. "Life Goes Off" sidles along with an easy, acoustic-flecked step, though even in the mellow moments, O'Rourke's idiosyncratic wit is still evident. "For these pants that you brought for me to wear/ The ones that have no back/ If I were to die with these things on/ You might want to try another size," he quips. And later on: "If you were to die with that thing on/ You coulda chose a better style." Then, the pedal steel kicks in with the patter of percussion before everything merges into a ramshackle, nerve-tensing sonic tumult.
Overall, the melodies are so tight they seem vacuum-packed, and the album delivers a platter of faultless rock songs. So how do we rate Jim O'Rourke's work? Insignificant? No. Enduring? We'll see.