One of Jurado’s strongest albums in an encouraging line of strong albums.
Daniel Ross 2012-02-08
It would be wrong to say that Damien Jurado is approaching musical maturity – he’s always sounded mature. Maroqopa is, unsurprisingly, mature-sounding, but through its sparse, desolate folk has been woven some frolicking touches, the odd hint that this serious man has lightened. That, and occasional experiments with some classy old-world elements make this one of Jurado’s strongest albums in an encouraging line of strong albums.
2010’s fantastic Saint Bartlett LP saw Jurado enjoy himself with backing vocals and lush New Orleans-style organs, so it’s perhaps only logical that he takes the blues tradition to task in the opening Nothing Is the News. And what fun he has with it – squealing and clattering guitars and a noodly instrumental focus are superbly kept in check by Jurado’s dainty, five-step backing vocals, which remain the hook on which the song hangs. Genre experiments are becoming more natural and with results like this it’s advisable that he continue trying them. Perhaps strongest is Reel To Reel, which sees his default acoustic guitar and shuffling drums replaced by a cool, sampled sparseness and oscillating drone (the reel itself?) that’s closer to Prince than Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy. More of this sort of thing would suit him in future.
In a similar fashion, those backing vocals become ever-more important to Maroqopa as it progresses: not only the wispy ones on Nothing Is the News, but the simple, sullen groans on Life Away From the Garden and, especially, the grizzled gospel vibrato of the choir on Working Titles. It could be the impeccable way in which they bookend Jurado’s own delivery, or it could be the way Jurado manages to make his voice (which is, in the grand scheme of things, beautifully faint rather than booming) soar pained above them, but these moments of communal emotion are an indispensable ingredient throughout.
But ingredients they remain – the real sustenance is still in the oblique, hazy non-sequiturs that have become second nature for Jurado. It’s never straightforward to dissect his words, but his undeniable bent for making the inconsequential sound earth-shattering is the base of all his work, making it, yes, mature-sounding. But now, where on previous records he might have settled for a quiet strum, his substantial gift for atmosphere evocation has been turned to more musical use, resulting in his most varied record for some time. A gentle evolution it may be, but it’s one that is slowly turning Jurado into one of our most treasured songwriters.