When Disaster Strikes arrives at an interesting juncture in hip-hop culture. The deaths of Tupac and Biggie had little to do with an intramural East Coast-West Coast rivalry, but the music made in response to the tragedies has distanced itself from the caricatures promoted by the bicoastal rift. The result has cleared the way for both exciting experimentation and idle commercial gropes. Rhymes wants to break hip hop out of the still-standing dichotomy between being real and pop. He seems to know that when faced with an either/or proposition, the right answer is usually both or neither.

-- Martin Johnson

Jim O'Rourke
Bad Timing
(Drag City)

For a guy who once said, "I have very little interest in playing the guitar," Chicagoan Jim O'Rourke manages to get a lot of time in diddling around on Ye Olde Fretboards. Aside from accumulating a fairly hefty catalog of his own, the hyperprolific O'Rourke moonlights in experimental bands Gastr del Sol, the Red Krayola, and Brise-Glace, and has recently lent his singular talent to labelmates Smog and Edith Frost (on this year's Red Apple Falls and Calling Over Time, respectively). In between, O'Rourke has managed to spend a little bit of time behind the mixing board, pulling production duty for the likes of German noise pioneers Faust and Ohio electro-skronkers Brainiac.

Then again, the ubiquitous -- and, one would imagine, sleep-deprived -- O'Rourke also once claimed of his compositional process that "if a personal emotion comes into it, I throw it away." Listening to Bad Timing, O'Rourke's latest offering, one can only assume he's had a change of heart. Known for his keen manipulation of the electric guitar's idiom (1993's Remove the Need found O'Rourke "playing" his axe with a fan and weaving knives into the strings), the guitarist uses the four instrumentals that make up Bad Timing as an opportunity to explore his more recent interest in acoustic finger-picking. In this context O'Rourke, working heavily under the influence of flattop subversive savant John Fahey (whose latest, Womblife, O'Rourke also produced -- Jesus, this guy gets around), proves himself to be both a deft technician and an intriguing texturalist. It's the combination of these attributes, of course, that makes Bad Timing an engaging listen; "There's Hell in Hello But More in Goodbye," the album's leadoff track, begins with a sprightly, nimble, and ultimately innocuous melody -- the kind of thing any Macrame Manny might lift out of the Arlo Guthrie songbook in order to charm the bell-bottoms off of Patchouli Julie -- but truly gets interesting when O'Rourke veers off into the Land of Nods, interweaving an insistent pedal tone drone with pristine harmonics and daintily minimalist piano. Similarly, "94 the Long Way" meanders, O'Rourke's guitar gently pondering with pregnant pauses, until it hits pace with whispering organ and Ken Champion's lyrical pedal steel. The thing is, every second -- and most of the songs edge toward or shoot past the 10-minute mark -- is integral to the ultimate effect; the payoff necessitates that buildup. Time, anyway, is irrelevant throughout most of Timing. You only notice its passage after the last note is struck, the spell is broken, and you realize that you've spent the last 12 minutes in a fugue state that began on a steamship and ended on a camel.

Mood music? Sure. But the moods are ambivalent, conflicting, and ultimately indefinable. When O'Rourke lets his fingers do the walking, the destination is still unknown even when he gets there.

-- Tim Kenneally

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