There’s nothing wrong with Damien Jurado that a good ass-kicking couldn’t fix. While I’m not seriously wishing physical harm to the guy, it would do him a world of good to have an actual conflict to jolt him out of the psychedelic dream-state that produced this twee, disengaged album.
The thing is, he’s a good, possibly great artist. The album has a pleasant sound to it – he’s melodically gifted, and the music is generally fairly lush. Even in an album I disliked for its several flaws, I’ll agree with his fans that he avoids unpleasantness – you would never snap off the radio during one of his songs.
Part of the problem is that he doesn’t trust his voice to deliver his music. Instead, he wraps it in soggy layers of sonic glop – echo chambers, backing choirs, falsetto, strange mixing, and on and on. When he actually just sings, he’s pretty darned good.
Another part of the problem is the material he wrote. This album is the second of two about a dream he had. He was wandering and encounters a group of space travelers or something out in the desert, and they’re “Silver” Katherine and “Silver” Timothy and nobody, not even his most devout fans who are enthralled with this album, has any idea what in the hell is supposed to be going on. What we get is a basically meaningless dreamscape that sounds vaguely spiritual or even religious, but isn’t quite. It’s just weird.
Perhaps it’s weird in a beautiful way. I suppose that one could get swept into the dreamy electronically-altered voice and sonic layers and really enjoy it. Personally, it didn’t work for me. I found myself frustrated by the indecipherable meaning and sloppy sound.
Robin, on the other hand, really liked this album. She allows herself to go along with Jurado, and finds “richly orchestrated pieces that pull from many musical styles to weave the resolution of a journey.” Good for her – she had a better time listening to it than I did.
Ironically, I may have paid too much attention to the album to simply enjoy it. Like I mentioned above, if the songs of this album showed up in a radio mix, you wouldn’t turn it off. It only really gets on my nerves if I listen to an entire album of Jurado’s silver navel-gazing, and I try to engage with it.
Now, if someone walks up to him, and cuffs him around a bit, he’s going to use that musical talent to describe something that we can relate to. If Jake Bugg took him for a walk around the housing project he grew up in, or if Kacey Musgraves broke his heart and then called him up for a romp in the sack, he would probably snap out of his two-album dream and make some music that the rest of us would be welcomed to enjoy.
Next up: English Oceans, by the Drive-By Truckers