Maybe I’m wrong, but I think Damien Jurado is having his mid-life crisis. Not the kind of crisis where you get a red car, lose 25 pounds, shave your mustache and get a new girlfriend but, rather, the good kind. The kind of crisis where you look back at your life and realize that you’re not doing what you wanted to do. After spending over a decade writing soft, lyrics-focused singer/songwriter albums, Jurado has seemingly emerged anew over his last three records, all of which he’s made with Richard Swift.
From a sonic standpoint, the albums have been increasingly adventurous and creatively risky, Jurado now making music that could almost even be described as progressive. Maybe it’s not a personal crisis that’s pushed Jurado into new creative territory, maybe it’s simply the partnership with Swift. Whatever it is that prompted Jurado to do such radically new things is his business; all I know is that, as a fan, I’m very happy about it. Rather than being the guy with great lyrics and maybe four very good songs per record, Jurado has become a full-blown recording artist over the course of 2012’s Maraqopa and the just-released Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son.
“Swirling,” I believe, is how a lot of critics like to describe the sound of a song like Brothers’ opener “Magic Number.” Jazz fusion-styled drums and a hefty mellotron arrangement bloat Swift’s psych-leaning production, the two musicians ornamenting their song with layers of subtle detail. It’s a bold, memorable opener that very much reminds of Maraqopa’s “swirling” opener, “Nothing Is the News.” Simply put, gone – for now at least – are the days of “Omaha” and “Letters and Drawings,” even if Jurado’s vocals and writing still feel endlessly familiar and classic in a Nick Drake sort of way.
Much is being made of the “otherworldly” vibe and dub reggae-inspired production on Brothers. What we have is a set of mid-tempo folk-rock songs drenched in production ideas. The album, because of both the arrangements and Jurado’s very theme-oriented songwriting, feels like something of a rock opera, Jurado leading us through some mythical unknown. Along the way we soul search, question life and meet a whole lot of strangers. Because of the sound, the themes, the cover art, the album title and just about everything else, Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son feels like something of a sci-fi album, Jurado taking storytelling risks he’s never before approached. While it all sounds very impersonal and cold on paper, the reality couldn’t be more different, Jurado speaking for himself through his characters in surprising, intriguing ways.
Oftentimes I feel a sense of embarrassment for a certain type of singer/songwriter. If the writing is overly emotional, confessional, self-involved or obvious, I cringe, even if the story is good. I’ve felt this way regularly for Jurado over the years. Maraqopa was different in that regard and, for the most part, so is Brothers and Sisters, “Silver Joy” bring the only time I laughed a nervous laugh. Jurado and Swift’s latest collaborative effort is their greatest sonic work yet – an ambitious record that’s bit and bold and, at times, beautiful. And complete. Whether or not I’ll end up liking the disc more than my so-far favorite Jurado work, Maraqopa, remains to be seen. That said, the two discs most definitely work well together as a one-two punch of textured songwriter psychedelia.