Damien Jurado has been creating music since the mid-1990s, but you’d be forgiven for not being familiar with his back-catalogue. After some lo-fi recordings and a couple of 7” singles, he released four albums with the doggedly indie label Sub Pop, who are based in his hometown of Seattle. Since the early 2000’s, he’s been releasing frequent records on Secretly Canadian and ‘Visions of us on the Land’ is the songwriter’s fourteenth LP – the final in a trilogy of records that began with 2012’s ‘Maraqopa’ and continued with 2014’s ‘Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Sun’. With his latest effort running at 17 tracks, he’s certainly a man with no shortage of creativity.
Telling the story of a character who leaves society behind to discover some “universal truths”, the trilogy explores the individual returning to a world that has been abandoned and is now vacant of human life. While lyrically it can be quite abstract at times, he’s got a fascinating way with words; they melt like butter on a hot pan into your consciousness, making this an enjoyable closing chapter.
Album opener, ‘November 20’, stomps into our ears, throwing its weight around while also holding little dramatic piano flourishes and soaring strings that wouldn’t feel out of place in the 70’s – a decade that can be heard throughout the record. ‘Mellow Blue Polka Dot’, as the title suggests it might be, is a sprawling, chaotic and nonsensical gallop through Jurado’s mind, before the track abruptly falls into a slowly-strummed acoustic abyss with echoes of the line “don’t touch the ground” bouncing off the walls.
‘QACHINA’ sounds a little like a Latin American Bond theme, while ‘Lon Bella’ also continues the Bossa Nova sounds. Throughout the record, Damien uses strings sparingly but beautifully, such as in the haunting ‘Sam and Davy’ which transforms from Fleet Foxes style folk to an atmospheric and eerie soundscape.
[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/236698342″ params=”color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]
Damien mixes the musical style every couple of tracks, which is certainly necessary to keep things fresh on an album with nearly twenty tracks. Combined with varied production finishes and plenty of sub three-minute songs, it’s an album that holds your attention throughout. It’s the songwriting that’s key here though, and Jurado’s voice lends itself to up-tempo funky numbers such as ‘ONALASKA’ or ‘Walrus’ to the delicate acoustic serenade’ Prisms’ and the quirky ditty ‘Queen Anne’.
One of the highs of the album is the mid-album duo of ‘TAQOMA’ and ‘On the Land Blues’. The former sounds like it should soundtrack a HBO gangster documentary, while the latter floats along the winds of the Midwest, a stunningly sparse and chilling campfire anthem. When he sings “…waiting here till you return” in the last line, you can almost feel the empty desert around him. ‘And Loraine’ is a touching 70s-infused song that glides along with vibrating guitars and world-weary vocal harmonies singing “…such a long day”, but if there’s a misstep then it’s probably ‘A.M AM’, which skirts a little too close to the MOR soft rock of the same decade. All is forgiven on the heartbreaking concluding track ‘Kola’ that repeats the emotive refrain “I will remember you, the way you are right now” throughout.
‘Visions of us on the Land’ is a thoughtful, eccentric and captivating record that shows you can still create something special and long-lasting even within the medium of a three minute song. As a whole it’s a fascinating body of work that reveals something new with every repeat, and is a must listen for those with even a small interest in modern folk music.
‘Visions of Us on the Land’ is out now via Secretly Canadian.
This Damien Jurado article was written by Tim Thackray, a Gigsoup contributor. Edited by Stephen Butchard. Header photo by Elise Tyler