Artist: Damien Jurado
Details: 10 songs, 35 minutes
Who’s Choice: Deliberate Obsfuscation
Dan can out witty me any day, and that makes for engaging and enjoyable reading. Going head to head with him on a weekly basis makes me need to batten down my own hatches and prepare for what could be trouble. If we are to disagree in a big way, how will I craft my own counter-point that can stand up to his? This is the week that it must be done.
What is an album? Is it merely musical minutes? I think that most of us are happy that there are albums that go beyond that. From extreme examples such as Pink Floyd’s The Wall to more subtle, but thematically cohesive examples such as Beach Boy’s Pet Sounds, Elton John’s Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, Green Day’s American Idiot... albums are out there that tell stories or paint musical portraits. To add to this list, I give you Damien Jurado’s Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son. (By the way, I don’t know if this title is derivative at all of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but it really made me think of that movie.)
Damien Jurado started this story with his last album, Maraquopa – an album that ended up on my best of list for 2012. The songs all come from a dream he had. In his dream, a successful musician decides to drop out of society and disappear. On his journey, he comes upon a mysterious town with mysterious people, Maraquopa. When he leaves Maraquopa to again search for an undefined something, he has a car accident. This is where Brothers and Sisters starts. The album’s songs deal with journey, salvation, acceptance and discovery. Sure, you can call this pretentious. A guy has a dream and from that dream he crafts two albums that are, in Dan’s words “soggy layers of sonic glop – echo chambers, backing choirs, falsetto, strange mixing, and on and on.” In my words, they are richly orchestrated pieces that pull from many musical styles to weave the resolution of a journey. And, if you are a musician – an artist – stretching yourself to compose an album that’s strength is the sum of its parts, that seems like something that would be very satisfying.
I listened to a few acoustic versions of songs on this album. For one thing, it helps in pulling out some of the lyrics. The falsetto that sounds in some of the songs is ramped down when it is just him and a guitar. While I may like them better that way, the layers of sound that he creates in the orchestrated versions are part of the story. They are meant to be dreamy and spacey and ethereal. Just as purposefully, I think, is that way that his voice alternates between being lost amidst the sounds to clear and spare.
I don’t understand it all, nor do I think that I have to in order to appreciate it. When that last song comes on – Suns in Our Mind – complete with snoring sounds and background conversations – I feel resolution and a sense of joy that completes the journey. I get that.
This album is short – 10 songs; 35 minutes. If you have headphones and a half hour, listen to it as it is produced.
Next up: English Oceans by The Drive By Truckers