Videos by American Songwriter
Five days before Damien Jurado released his new album, Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son, the sun went to sleep. “I’ve been a solar physicist for 30 years, and I’ve never seen anything quite like this,” reported the head of space physics at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. In the absence of a firm scientific explanation for the lull, Jurado’s release may appear more than coincidental. For this is an album of unearthly music so bright it seems a light to last even the coldest winters of our own fading star.
On paper, this record isn’t much different than his last. One year after Jurado created Maraqopa, the titular paradise of his 2012 record, he’s taken us back again. Richard Swift, a member of the Shins and longtime collaborator of Jurado’s, has produced yet another bedroom epic, inflating even Jurado’s quietest folk songs to hymnal resonance. The main difference, though, is that they’ve gone far deeper into Maraqopa on this record. They’ve created a new sound, and, with it, a new, mysterious world as cosmic as any solar lull.
Both records are based on a dream Jurado had about a man wandering the desert. “He leaves the house with no form of identification or anything and he decides he just wants to disappear,” says Jurado. This nameless man may sound dangerously akin to the increasingly archetypal “Hopeless Wanderer,” but his journey is far from rote. On a quest to find himself, he encounters a new spiritual world. Each song is about an encounter with something or someone in and around Maraqopa that literally reflects and clarifies the seeker to himself. The reflection is explicit in the titles: “Silver Timothy,” “Metallic Cloud,” “Silver Donna,” “Silver Malcolm,” “Silver Katherine,” and “Silver Joy.”
It’s also explicit in the album’s sound. “Silver Timothy” is fairly typical of Swift’s production – he surrounds Jurado’s delicate delivery with spaghetti western bass, 60s psychedelic organ, bongo drums, and vintage reggae guitar stabs while two classical guitars create a sheen of rustling strings. I’m no synesthete, but these airy, reverberating songs are as silvery as any I’ve heard.
Yet despite their repetition, the album’s main ideas are tauntingly elusive, even when the story is clear. The last of Jurado’s silver characters, “Silver Katherine,” lives on the album’s best and most revealing song. The man tells Katherine of his visions – “I saw stars fall like teeth / Cutting my name into the earth.” Tympanic drums, acoustic guitar, a soft shaker, and reaching strings lift the song higher with each vision. “Katherine, I have seen him / Outside of Maraqopa” is as close to a messianic sighting as the constantly religious album comes. The song builds with the visions to the climactic release: “Time to wake up in the morning / Feeling free to be the wind.” In an album of wandering, this is the only sign of settling in.
These powerful revelations are almost incomprehensible. But much of Jurado’s music, frustratingly enough, seems to laugh off the idea of writing about Jurado’s music. In one of his most famous songs, “Working Titles,” a biting love ballad that nearly reaches the cool and collected heights of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” he tells off an ex who won’t stop writing songs about him: “In the end you’re a fool like the journalist / Who turns what you sing into business.” These are songs about spiritual things that, like a woman’s love for Jurado, can’t properly be expressed. On the closing song, “Suns In Our Mind,” Jurado sings, “Over there / Beyond the words / We are all we dream of.”
Yet some things can be expressed, and that last, double-meaning ‘all’ is Jurado’s tell. Depending on how you hear the record, it can mean “everything” or “the only thing.” Ultimately, it’s both: in dreaming about the nameless man he was dreaming up and dreaming about himself. Brothers and Sisters is a journey out into Maraqopa and deep into Jurado. It is straightforwardly an album about loss and resurrection, but it’s also not in any way straightforward. Like his odd prophet, Jurado’s mysterious voice carries and reflects off his characters. Seers need seekers, songs need listeners, and Jurado needs Maraqopa. So do we.