Seattle native Damien Jurado's first album is an impressive debut that was sadly overlooked by many people still caught up in the hype of the celebrated Sub Pop Records and the aftermath left from the grunge era.
Long-running indie singer/songwriter Damien Jurado branched out into even deeper sonic territory with his Richard Swift-produced 2012 album, Maraqopa. That album's production managed to be in a constant state of tense flux without ever becoming busy or overblown, winding subtle touches of psychedelia and haunted echo around the acoustic core of Jurado's songs. A few years later, the duo of Swift and Jurado return with the sublime and even further out Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son, a twisting set of songs that hides intricate production techniques in Jurado's increasingly layered and complex compositions. The most remarkable element of the production is the heavy '70s dub influence that hides in the corners at first but eventually sprawls out over the course of the album.
Damien Jurado is every character in every Damien Jurado song. He is the gun, the purple anteater, the paper wings, the avalanche, the air show disaster, Ohio, the ghost of his best friend's wife. It is a universe unto its own, with it's own symbolism, creation myth, and liturgy. You might go as far as to call it a religion, and your religion is a character in his religion.
At Richard Swift's National Freedom studios, the live-to-tape ethos allowed the songs on Damien Jurado's Maraqopa to expand and retract like a great beast's breath. Every in-the-moment bell and whistle here is hung with a natural, casual care. And from this, each song offers up its own unique gift.
Saint Bartlett opens up with a grandiosity yet unheard on a Damien Jurado album. It strips away the many layers of paint from the house down the street where we know Jurado has occupied for the last decade. The new coat is exhilarating. It makes the whole neighborhood shine. It's a modest grandiosity; still homegrown. The mellotron swells, heavenly handclaps ring in stereo and big drums create a sky for the songs to fly in. And the words. Words spring forth from within the volcano of Jurado, full of hope.
Nearly 20 years into his tenure as a prominent Pacific Northwest punk-turned-beloved folk-leaning songwriter, Jurado is still perfecting his mixture of barely restrained angst and carefully strategized tranquility. CAUGHT IN THE TREES continues to evoke the ghosts of his peers, Kurt Cobain and Elliott Smith, but is neither as hopeless as the former nor as vulnerable as the latter. The guitars get louder on standout tracks like “Caskets,” but the sweetness on display during “Gillian Was A Horse” and the engaging sadness laid bare on “Last Rights” (both given an even more sympathetic air by Jenny Conrad’s co-vocals) border on stunning.
No longer a solo artist, Jurado is now a band; having added permanent members Eric Fisher and Jenna Conrad. Together they'll lead you into the lyrical world of the forgotten faces that you once knew. The songs are old friends and close relatives, quarreling loves and love lost, the very thoughts that cross your mind when you are alone or among the crowd.
On My Way to Absence continues on the similar delicate path that Jurado paved starting with Where Shall You Take Me?, with subtle differences. Jurado seems to broaden his palette with which to express this dark business of life on On My Way to Absence – lush strings swirl underneath tracks like "White Center" and "Night Out for the Downer," while the use of minimal electronics, keyboards, and samples creeps up on tracks like "Big Decision" and "A Jealous Heart Is a Heavy Heart." All of this is sequenced next to the stripped-down and melancholy rock tracks that Jurado is known for, the dark confessional "Fuel" and the raw "I Am the Mountain" being the best examples. On My Way to Absence offers many new areas of musical exploration, suggesting a more mature arranger in Damien Jurado mingling with the wonderfully sad storyteller and vivid landscape painter that he is already known for on previous releases.
Arriving just a year after the surprisingly eclectic and electric rock of I Break Chairs, Damien Jurado's Where Shall You Take Me? is something of a return – but not a retreat – to the moody minimalism of albums like Ghost of David. Songs like "Amateur Night" and "Omaha" share the acoustic strumming and rustic, shuffling rhythms of his earlier work, but also have a subtly polished confidence that brings out the warmth in Jurado's singing and playing as never before. The country and folk elements always present in his music come to the fore on "Abilene" and "Window," which, with its sweet, close harmonies, borrows equally from the traditions of bluegrass and hymns.