[21 January 2014]
Since last October, Secretly Canadian has been promoting Damien Jurado‘s new album by sharing an “essay” about the album written by “Father John Misty” (Joshua Tillman). With all due respect to Jurado and his label, who clearly believe the essay is a worthwhile way to build awareness of the release, I think Tillman’s rant threatens to torpedo the whole enterprise. By sarcastically disavowing both popular and dissident perceptions of America and Jesus Christ and Jurado’s output, Tillman becomes the very thing he intends to renounce: a too-certain philosopher.
Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son needs no such exposition. Like all of Jurado’s albums, it bears some sort of relationship to existing elements of the songwriter’s life but exists mostly within an imagined landscape. To overthink the invention and inspiration behind the songs works against appreciating the album as it exists in the here and now. As with The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads by Lift to Experience, Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son succeeds because of its self-contained myths and mysteries.
One of the most memorable features of Jurado’s last album, Maraqopa, was that it began with a “psych-rock” song that was ultimately unrepresentative of his (and the album’s) dominant musical style. The feeling of that song, “Nothing Is the News”, carries over into the first half of Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son. “Magic Number”, a song that introduces a few of the album’s key lyrical themes, is much more lushly produced than the solo acoustic guitar rendition that Jurado has performed at live shows. He and returning producer Richard Swift continue to find new ways to shift what are essentially folk songs into productions that defy simple categorization. That sort of sonic uncertainty is of a piece with the lyrics’ attention to physical and mental dislocation. It’s not for nothing that Jurado repeats “it’s my turn to confuse” on the album’s opening number.
Maraqopa was an album about exile and losing/finding one’s purpose by straying. While Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son is also a “journey” album, this time Jurado increasingly blurs the line between physical leave-taking and spiritual inventory. “Metallic Cloud” might sound like a mid-‘90s Flaming Lips reference, but the song is in fact the lone bit of calm in the album’s first half. A tale of hospitalization between songs about car crashes, “Metallic Cloud” is the sort of thing Jurado does best. While the strings, piano, percussion and backing vocals are undeniable as superficial pleasures, the lyrics are particularly poignant—especially for listeners with an appreciation for earlier standouts like “Medication” from Ghost of David. Though each listener will form his or her own interpretation of the album’s narrative, “Metallic Cloud”‘s mention of “a temporary earth” seems especially full of meaning. No image/shape is more important to the story than the circle, represented here in “Metallic Cloud” as a snow globe, but elsewhere as an eyeball, a dime, a zero, the Sun, Earth, Saturn, and (most explicitly) “Love is never ending / It is a circle never broken”—a lyric that circles back to “Life is short but love’s eternal” from the title track of Ghost of David.
“Jericho Road” signals this album’s differentiation from Maraqopa in its choice of musical allusion. Whereas Maraqopa cribbed a melody from Coldplay on single “Museum of Flight”, “Jericho Road” revives Deep Purple’s “Child in Time”. “Jericho Road” is one of many numbers here that might be called adjacent with the Bible in imagery and language. Accounts of the Road to Emmaus and the Road to Damascus might figure into the mythology of “Jericho Road”, but they certainly aren’t followed to the letter. For that matter, the reference to “Child in Time” points to Lars von Trier’s use of the song in Breaking the Waves, but any direct connection is left unstated.
A united cast of characters emerges in the second half of the album. Perhaps they are the Silver family. “Silver Donna” is emblematic of Jurado and Swift’s growing focus on rhythm. In some places, Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son is downright groovy, and a long section of “Silver Donna” plays like a congregation being revived, clapping in unison to the beat. “Silver Malcolm” and “Silver Katherine” are rapture songs. In “Silver Malcolm”, “I’ll have no one to talk to if I am left behind” calls back to “Metallic Cloud”, whose character is given “a temporary earth, in case you don’t get out”. Anchored by acoustic guitar, the prettily orchestrated “Silver Katherine” is the emotional climax of the album. “Silver Joy” continues the use of the acoustic guitar, but little else joins it, allowing Jurado’s voice to bloom.
The epilogue to this story (and of Maraqopa, as well) is “Suns in Our Mind”. It’s a simple song about sleeping, dreaming and waking, yet it provides another key to the saga that Jurado has been exploring across two albums. The journeys he imagines are rich with detail, full of roads and methods of transportation and people to meet. All of these things live in the mind of the storyteller, and songs are the vehicles through which they reach the listener. Then the listener internalizes and/or interprets these places and people as he or she wishes. With Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son, Damien Jurado has created an album at least in part about the processes of artistic creation and interpretation—temporary earths that point to something eternal.