[Rating: 4 stars]
The Seattle-based singer songwriter Damien Jurado has been plying his holistic brand of folk-rock balladry since the mid-90s. His earliest recordings were on his own label and, were cassette-based no less. His otherworldly but intimate songs quickly gained attention and by the late 90s he signed with Sub Pop to produce his first full-length, Waters Ave. S.
On the recently released Maraqopa on Indiana-based Secretly Canadian, his second with producer Ricard Swift following 2010’s outstanding St. Bartlett, Jurado delivers a set of songs that builds on what the previous album set up, though it’s more expansive and chilling enough to give even the most cynical listener goosebumps.
The opening track, “Nothing is the News,” functions as a sly slight-of-hand. At first it seems out of place from the long line of consistent songs in Jurado’s catalog; however, the psychedelic rock track calls attention to the sprawling emotion at the heart of his folk songs. Amidst Neil Young-style guitar lines, Jurado’s trademark biting lyrics appropriately open up the album, “Nothing to have when all that you want is gone.”
On the forward-looking, “This Time Next Year,” the partnership between Jurado and Swift is showcased to masterful affect. The dissonant floating piano chords, echoing woodblock, nebulous strings and background vocals that seem as if they’re escaping from the cracks of a door, all ably punctuate Jurado’s desolation and fragile voice.
Swift and Jurado find in each other, kindred spirits, with each complimenting each other’s strengths. Where Jurado’s lyrics can become quietly devastating songs with just plaintive strumming on an acoustic guitar, the instrumentation and arrangement that Swift adds brings out the best in both men.
On “Everyone a Star,” Jurado’s tenor is a tender lamentation. There’s a spectral quality that snakes it way throughout the entire album—and on this song in particular. Jurado’s singing sounds as if he’s telling ghost stories around a campfire. The mood he creates suits his theme of longing, “In time, I found you like a light on /I won’t forget all that you’ve done/ Ready when you are to lose.”
The album’s standout is the pensively beautiful, “Museum of Flight.” The song has a transfixing melody without being too fussy; it’s simply storytelling. Ironically, the synths that Swift adds to this track create a richer and fuller sound—it could even be called organic. Even in a love song, nothing comes easy for the forlorn Jurado, “Don’t let go/ I need you to hang around/ I’m so broke and foolishly in love.” He pleads and then finds resignation, “What did I learn?/ That it’s not easy/ When you get burned, then go on burning loud.”
Even after 12 full-length albums, Jurado is still finding ways to grow musically. While continuing to deliver the intimate songs of hopeless love and regret for his longtime fans, he stills finds ways to surprise as he works with his magician-like collaborator. Maraqopa lingers long after the last track informs us that, “We are all mountains still asleep.”