Boomkat Product Review:
Despite the break, this album can be seen as a direct follow-on from his previous Drag City albums - most closely resembling 1997's Bad Timing given its lack of vocals and the continuous passages of steel-strung acoustic guitar-led arrangements.
This all adds up to a seriously exciting release; Jim's cycle of Drag City albums (this being the first not to take its name from successive Nicolas Roeg films - following that logic this one should have been called Castaway) is one of the most revered bodies of work in American alternative rock. As this latest addition to that canon starts up, one of the very first things to strike you is that the production and mixing are undertaken in a fashion that is (to say the least) highly unusual by today's standards.
Seldom do you hear so much dynamic breadth in a contemporary record; this is not one of those releases that's had every ounce of life compressed out of it, instead O'Rourke leaves the quiet parts quiet and the loud parts... marginally less quiet. This is an album that's made according to old-fashioned principles, presented with vintage levels of clarity and warmth that benefit from being turned up for full appreciation. A decent amount of cranking will reveal countless layers of instrumental threads, and according to the great man himself there are around two hundred tracks used up in the recording of The Visitor - and that's two hundred tracks he's played himself. Given the long break, it's easy to forget just how brilliant a musician O'Rourke is; his production skills (as demonstrated on records by Wilco, Sonic Youth, John Fahey and Joanna Newsom among many others) are well documented, but since 2001 it'd be all too easy to think of O'Rourke's musical output as being restricted to occasional drone pieces, or the odd film soundtrack here and there for pals like Werner Herzog and Olivier Assayas.
The Visitor is a comeback of heroic proportions however - an auditory feast featuring acres of guitars, immaculately pieced together percussion elements, and all kinds of subtle yet elaborate arrangements for strings, horns and keyboard instruments. John Mulvey really hit the nail on the head when he recently described this as "a kind of folk symphony, a heavenly realisation of modern composition rescored for Laurel Canyon habitués", and it certainly feels every bit as substantial and gratifying as that assessment alludes. Don't leave it so long next time, please Mr O'Rourke.