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Damien Jurado - Just In Time For Something

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Artist: Damien Jurado

Album: Just In Time For Something

Label: Secretly Canadian

Review date: Nov. 8, 2004

The latest release by singer-songwriter and Seattle kindergarten teacher Damien Jurado is a modest 10-minute affair, distinct from the bulk of his recorded output by virtue of its hazy, lo-fi production values. Self-recorded on a tube-powered reel-to-reel and salvaged 1/4” tape, the EP has almost as much in common with 2000’s Postcards and Audio Letters – a curious compendium of conversation fragments Jurado culled from thrift-store answering machines and discarded Dictaphone tapes – as it does with Jurado’s typical song cycles.

Blessed with a gentle tenor and the ability to wed evocative, often deeply unsettling narratives to skeletal folk forms, Jurado might have contented himself with remaking Rehearsals For Departure for the rest of his career – judging from my own experience at live shows, there are plenty of people who would pay to hear “Ohio” for the next 10 years. Instead, Jurado’s music has grown incrementally darker and more difficult, and much of this can be attributed to his growing interest in incidental sounds and traditional antecedents. “Amateur Night” on last year’s Where Shall You Take Me marked a quantum leap – its low drone crescendo multiplied the menace of a brutal vignette rendered in stark fragments (“I am not an evil man / I just have a habit I can’t kick / It starts with an urge and it ends with… / Hang up the phone I ain’t finished yet”) – but there are similar moments elsewhere in Jurado’s catalog. Similarly, songs like “Rosewood Casket” and the mannered, Scotch-English style of “Abilene” signal a broader adoption of diverse forms than Jurado’s early full-lengths.

These characteristics are also evident on the five-song Just In Time For Something. “Smith 1972” makes the best use of the rudimentary recording set-up: an unusually quick-picking Jurado flies through a ragged country-blues, replete with idiosyncratic declarations (“I am no one / I am a hurricane”) delivered like Dock Boggs mysticisms, and the field-recorded aura works understandably well. The other tracks hew a bit closer to Jurado’s normal stylistic mode: “Motion Sickness” and “Prices” are both quiet, fragmentary sketches, evoking the same feeling of bleakness and estrangement that’s caused more than one critic to see similarities between Jurado’s music and the short fiction of Raymond Carver. This comparison is mostly apt – besides for writing from the point-of-view of quietly despairing working-class characters, both pare their stories down to their essential marrow. But for this reason it’s strange to hear Jurado’s voice so muddled, buried by the lo-fi trappings. His sentiment pokes through the haze, but it isn’t tethered to specifics – or if it is, you can hardly make them out. The one and two-minute songs on Just In Time For Something contain only a handful of lines at the most, but almost every one of those lines is obscured by the salvaged tape, the antiquated recording equipment.

In his essay “On Being A Writer,” Carver quoted Guy de Maupassant as saying, “No iron can pierce the heart with such force as a period put just at the right place.” I suppose if you extended the analogy, Just In Time For Something would be the equivalent of a Carver story written with ellipses and run-on sentences, or a poem written wholly in the realm of abstraction and metaphor. And actually, that might have been neat to see.

By Nathan Hogan

Other Reviews of Damien Jurado

I Break Chairs

On My Way To Absence

Caught in the Trees

Saint Bartlett


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