Prolific warbler, Damien Jurado, continues to defy folk logic by refusing to grow a beard.
Secretly Canadian, 2014
5.9 / 10
A key tenet of contemporary folk is exploration of the space within music. Tracing Bob Dylan, through Nick Drake and all the way up to the Appalachian influences of the folk boom of the mid-late ’00s, it is evident that musicians have been obsessed with it, consciously or otherwise. Much is made of the singer-songwriter and their ability to create an atmosphere of isolation, desolation, focusing attention on lyrics and vox. On album number 11, Damien Jurado has taken these tropes and tried to invert them, for better or worse, in an earnest attempt to make something new with Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son.
This is a record of crippling claustrophobia; a folk sound that is trapped within itself. From the first ten seconds this is made clear with a whirl of eery strings and Jurado’s ghostly voice rising from the background, floating in and out of view. The song then proceeds to break down, descend into some lost drumbeats before the vocals return to re-establish order. It’s a bold and interesting move so early on and you’re alerted to the fact that this isn’t going to be a regular indie-folk album. At times it almost feels like you’re listening to freak folk, but Jurado always returns to his safe place eventually. A comfort zone is known as such for a reason, and if you’re going to operate outside of it, you can’t just jump back in when it gets too difficult.
The first four or five songs make an earnest effort at experimentalism (within relatively safe parameters), before falling back into more well-worn territory in the second half. In the former there are whooshing gasps of reverb (“Metallic Cloud”), otherworldly synth bloops (“Return to Maraqopa”) and even some jazzed-up drums to create a brief bossa nova moment (“Silver Timothy”). These effects fight amongst each and, although they generally aren’t deployed together, create a cacophony that gives an extremely cluttered feel. It also serves to undermine the lyrical choices that Jurado has made in Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son.
Much like the fleeting musical touchstones that Jurado utilizes, there are also various thematic allusions that pop up throughout the album. But, rather than weave their way skillfully in and out of the listener’s consciousness, they seem to appear at random, jumping out from beneath the music to remind you that there are lyrics. There are numerous vague allegorical references, “Remove my nails when you have the time”, “…roll away the stone” &c. But the whole loses a lot without any particular connecting threads, and alongside trite platitudes such as “Love is never ending/ It is a circle never broken”, there is a distinctly slapdash feeling.
The final four tracks make up the strongest section of the album, where the orchestral embellishments are pared back, and Jurado manages to more clearly enunicate his ideas over a beautifully simple, cascading melody (“Silver Malcolm”) or gently plucked guitar (“Silver Katherine”). The final track, “Suns in Our Mind”, seems like a wake-up from the lackadaisical preceding songs, though I think it is more fitting to view it as the beginning of the dream proper, after a few tracks that existed in a dream-like stupor (the snoring effect adds nothing to the discussion here). The journey began in a frantic rush for understanding, experimented with different ideas and eventually found comfort in relaxing and letting thoughts rise up, fall and wash into view. However, a satisfactory conclusion does not always make up for a faltering beginning, especially when the melodrama is played out out over a mere 34 minutes.
There are plenty of ideas floating around, but they simply aren’t dovetailing in the way that Jurado hoped (I don’t care what Father John Misty thinks). Devotees of Mr. Jurado will undoubtedly enjoy the album; there hasn’t been a drastic change from his signature sound. New fans could be won with his experimental flourishes, but they generally come across as random indulgences, rather than carefully thought out choices.