With Visions of Us on the Land, Damien Jurado completes a neo-psychedelic trilogy seemingly tailor-made for those who grew up in the 1970s.
The pre-punk, pre-disco 1970s were a very weird time to be a kid. It was a time when your neighbor’s wife might spend a few hours a day meditating inside of a plastic pyramid, a time when a buddy might slip you a copy of The Late, Great Planet Earth, Hal Lindsey’s best-selling paranoid Cold War end-of-the-world prophecy, and mutter something along the lines of “If this is real, what’s the point, ya know?” UFO paranoia was everywhere; another of your friends probably had a copy of Erich von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods, which claimed that ancient civilizations had been in contact with extraterrestrials who had brought the technology to build the pyramids to Earth. And one of the biggest box-office successes came from a documentary that claimed to have located the remains of Noah’s ark on top of Mount Ararat. Everyone seemed to be searching for something spiritual or pseudo-spiritual in the least.
The Jesus Movement began in earnest during this period, spreading from the West Coast and injecting the phrase “Jesus freak” into the popular lexicon, both as a put down and a self-embraced identity. In 2010, the music blog Aquarium Drunkard posted a two-CD compilation of self-released late ’60s/early ’70s folk/psychedlic songs that grew out of the Jesus Movement of the time, titled The End Is at Hand Pt 1 & 2. Two years later, Damien Jurado posted a note to the sight, thanking the compilers and noting “this is all that I have been listening to, for the past two years by far, the biggest influence I had when writing the songs for ‘maraquopa’ [sic]”. The sincerity of the spiritual yearning expressed on these songs, combined with their naïve psychedelia set Jurado on a path with co-conspirator Richard Swift to explore a new sonic vision for his always questing songwriting. This is Jurado and Swift’s fourth collaboration, going back to 2010’s Saint Bartlett (fifth if one counts the collection of cover songs they released for free download, Other People’s Songs, Vol. 1).
Not that everyone believed him, but Jurado did claim that 2012’s Maraquopa would be part of an ongoing sequence of concept albums. It’s loose tale of a nameless musician who goes off on a spiritual quest into the unknown territories of an America-like landscape. He’s stranded, it seems, by a car crash and stumbles into a Drop City-like community of believers, which forms much of the narrative on Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son. There, he meets Silver Katherine, who will become his companion on Visions of Us on the Land, only to become separated by that album’s end, completing the story. Throughout, the sonic landscape has amplified the loose story. From start to finish, these three albums have been the most adventurous and consistently surprising of Jurado’s career. There has always been something of a stoner vibe to Jurado’s songs, and he and Swift have taken this characteristic into divine dimensions. These are headphone records in the strictest 1970s sense, internal and trippy. And if they sound this good in Georgia, the listening experience in Colorado or Oregon must be fucking unreal.
Visions of Us on the Land may not be the most surprising of the trilogy, from a listener’s standpoint, but it is certainly the most assured. The seven years of collaboration between Jurado and Swift pays off in the breadth and confidence of the playing here. Like the inspirations for the lyrical content, the sound of early 1970s progressive music dominates the sonic palette of the album. I can hear inspirations from Procol Harem’s “Song for a Dreamer” or Bo Hansson’s Lord of the Rings inspired psych-symphonic work. It’s a mellow, welcoming vibe that will make this and its two predecessors worth returning to for decades to come.