Indie folk veteran sometimes exploring new terrain.
Damien Jurado – Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son
It must be nice being a longtime Damien Jurado fan. His sound has barely changed since his 1999 sophomore effort Rehearsals for Departure, and his consistency is most certainly an agreeable approach for devoted listeners. But might Jurado’s lack of musical turnarounds eventually grow frustrating or boring with time? Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son, Jurado’s eleventh and most recent album, still doesn’t quite answer this question: it’s a collection of both his signature folk sparsity and, more commonly, some exciting, mildly different adventures. His new methods are invigorating and gripping, but his usual approach feels a bit tiring. Regardless, Brothers and Sisters is no less affecting than anything he’s previously released.
Some of the songs on Brothers and Sisters dabble in terrain that Jurado has already covered many times throughout his seventeen-year career, and falter somewhat for this approach. “Metallic Cloud”, for example, progresses at a snail’s pace, relying on pianos and Jurado’s unmistakable voice to carry the song; “Silver Katherine” employs wispy acoustic guitars and well-buried strings (so subtle, in fact, that it’s difficult to determine whether the instrument at hand is a violin, a viola, or a cello) to achieve the same effect. “Silver Joy”, the most outrightly desolate track here, is classic Jurado, slithering by on merely its creator’s voice and finger-picked guitar notes. It’s nice to see that, after so many releases, Jurado’s most frequently used formula still works somewhat.
However, these same tracks are pushed to the album’s periphery when cast in the shadow of its more daring moments. “Silver Donna” sounds just as bleak as the majority of Jurado’s catalog, but its cold, brittle bass and arching vocal howls ensure that its six minutes, a long runtime for its creator, never bore. “Return to Maraqopa” is neither a return to Maraqopa, Jurado’s previous album, nor its title track; rather, it ditches those works’ abandoned acoustics for unsettling synth undertones and gorgeous guitar gallop. Opener “Magic Number” improves on the later-featured “Silver Katherine”, borrowing the latter track’s instrumentation and resulting in a mildly quicker tune. What’s particularly notable about “Magic Number” is its middle thirty seconds, a sort of harrowing, dusty percussive breakdown. This brief interlude is sandwiched by two nearly equal halves, an arrangement that might render this section pointless if it weren’t so interesting.
“You lost your mind on a music note/caught in your throat”, Jurado mutters on “Return to Maraqopa.” The man probably isn’t talking to himself here: on Brothers and Sisters, Jurado’s voice emanates loudly and clearly from the sonic mess. Even on “Jericho Road”, a track that buries its singer’s voice under filter after filter, the plight of human emotion is readily apparent; more traditional tracks such as “Silver Joy” make no effort to conceal their sentiments. This song’s “do not disturb me/let me be” mantra pervades Brothers and Sisters, an album on which no object or person disturbs Damien Jurado’s creative process.