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Damien Jurado - Maraqopa

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Artist: Damien Jurado

Album: Maraqopa

Label: Secretly Canadian

Review date: Feb. 17, 2012

“Nothing is the News,” the first single from Damien Jurado’s 10th full-length album, is full of latent smoke and thunder, a reeling trill of organ arcing out off of blues guitar, Jurado’s spectral tenor in the foreground, occasional earthier howls and shouts coming from deep inside the sound. It is, by far, the hardest rocking cut he’s done since 2002’s I Break Chairs, and yet, its fire is chilled, distanced, overlaid with an ectoplasmic shimmer. Its spectral, watery wash of sustained synths and organ tones will sound familiar to anyone who spent time with Saint Bartlett, Jurado’s first collaboration with Richard Swift. And yet, here this otherworldly aura hovers around warmer, more substantial sounds. It’s like you’re hearing the disembodied trace of a 1960s rock song, filtered through layers of glowing, hallucinatory calm.

“Nothing Is the News” is, perhaps, the most striking instance of Maraqopa‘s knack for balancing sweat and noise with eerie spiritually, though “So On Nevada,” later on, is almost as extreme. But even in its quieter moments, Maraqopa is more grounded than Saint Bartlett, less ephemeral, less elliptical, less apt to lift right off its foundations and float away. And yet, it is by no means an ordinary singer-with-a-guitar kind of album. Jurado and Swift are onto something in the conjunction of rough-hewn folk and atmospheric electronics, and if anything, they have gotten better at integrating the two elements into a whole.

Consider, for instance, how the carefully restrained, strummed folk of “Maraqopa” opens out in another, wilder direction a third of the way through. Up to this point, Jurado has been singing in the foreground, his voice tremulous, murmur-y in the mid-range and blossoming into falsetto trills at the top. The verse pauses and we hear another, far more strident Jurado singing “we are ready,” his voice surrounded with echo as if he were coming in from another room, or possibly as if he’d been raised in a séance.

Sometimes the embellishments seem overly elaborate. I’m not sure you need synthetic flute and strings in “This Time Next Year,” and the child’s choir in “Life Away from the Garden” feels, at best, non-essential. Yet in a couple of instances, complex, wall-to-wall effects gel into a remarkable kind of sound. “Reel to Reel,” to my ears the album’s best, balances a stately, slow-rocking drum beat with a glistening wash of sustained sounds, a high twinkle of bells, the luxuriance of multiple voices. There’s not a bit of white space in the whole cut, but you are enveloped -- rather than drowned -- in shifting, gleaming textures.

I was sure, at first, that I wouldn’t like Maraqopa as much as Saint Bartlett, that it was more prosaic, more linear, less lost in the spaces between the lines and notes. As I’ve gone on, I’ve found that the ghostliness is still there, though perhaps married more tightly to the melodies and instrumental arrangements. With Richard Swift, Jurado has learned to turn a fiery Richard Thompson-esque blues guitar solo into something melancholy, distant and spiritually evocative, and a plain-spoken brand of folk into an otherworldly epiphany…a nice bit of alchemy.

By Jennifer Kelly

Other Reviews of Damien Jurado

I Break Chairs

Just In Time For Something

On My Way To Absence

Caught in the Trees

Saint Bartlett

Read More

View all articles by Jennifer Kelly

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