It seems an unusual decision that Damien Jurado chose to open his new album Maraqopa with an absolute show-boater of a track ‘Nothing is the News’ (rather than keeping his powder dry). Jurado’s voice is heavy on the reverb, with guitars which are both bluesy (‘So Far’ era Crosby Still Nash & Young) and psychedelic, over drumming that sounds like it was recorded in a wind tunnel. It all layers and builds: Jurado’s voice in a cyclical echo, the song ending in a morass of feedback and random keyboard sounds. It’s a compelling opening, with the feel of Parliament/Funkadelic, yet fresher and more modern.
Although late 60’s/early 70’s tinged, the rest of the album is altogether gentler. In ‘Life Away from the Garden’ Jurado reflects ‘there was a time, when we were golden’ which is echoed by children’s voices. And in ‘This Time Next Year’ we move to Easy Listening territory reminiscent of Henry Mancini with bossanova beats and an underwater sounding Ry Cooder-esque guitar. Lyrically, these and several other of the earlier tracks reference religion ‘like the son, we were lights in the world’ and ‘a chance to be reborn to never be alone, I should have done this long ago’. Later we move from the spiritual to the free spirit, more in keeping with the musical flavour of the album: ‘everyone a star… free is all we are’ and ‘we are songs to be sung …all mountains still asleep’.
Jurado may be questioning faith (on many levels) in the same way he has explored musical style for so long. He’s been going for fifteen years, starting in punk bands, exploring pop, electric indie rock and even found-sound experiments, yet he’s best known for gentle close-up folk. In 2010, Jurado sought out a new direction by collaborating with Producer Richard Swift (also a member of Indie rock group The Shins) on ‘Saint Bartlett (review here)’. Maraqopa then, is their second album together, recorded at Swift’s National Freedom studios, it offers little musical quirks and nuggets. As well as the aforementioned experimental sounds, there are moments where Swift illustrates lyrics musically: in ‘Working Times’ Jurado sings ‘as sure as the rain’ whilst an eerie tinkling string quivers in the background.
Often Jurado sounds remarkably similar to Neil Young and this is essentially a laid back folk album, but the subtle experimental idiosyncrasies turn this into something more unique.
Review by: Selina Ream
Maraqopa is released on Secretly Canadian (Feb 20)