On My Way to Absence
Seattle-bred singer/songwriter Damien Jurado has had a somewhat spotty history. There's the near perfection of 1999's Rehearsals for Departure, then there's the horrible pretension of Postcards and Audio Letters, a collection of mostly found answering machine messages that he released the following year. But then again there's his rock band Gathered in Song's I Break Chairs, a 2002 release that redeemed him and reminded fans of what Jurado is capable of. Thankfully, On My Way To Absence happily straddles the fence between the introspective folk-writer and the indie-rocker while leaving the answering machine, outsider artist quietly at home where he belongs. At his best, Jurado knows how to arrange songs that can kill and cure at the same time. He spins quietly perfect tales of love almost gone or already gone wrong. This makes the Nick Drake comparisons perhaps unavoidable. After all, Nick Drake is the New Dylan as far as lazy comparisons go. It also explains the other names that are bandied about around Jurado — names like Richard Buckner, Elliot Smith, and Sebadoh. Like these artists, his songs are imminently personal and universal at the same time. The spare, lovely "Northbound" could easily find a home on Drake's Five Leaves Left (or on a Volkswagen ad at the very least). A messy, complicated friendship with the opposite sex disintegrates in "Sucker," where Jurado cries, "We used to be the best of friends/I guess things now have changed/you're far too busy making out/do you still know my name?/I think I've had enough/I think I've lost my mind/I think I've had enough." It's the saddest, strongest albeit shortest song on the CD. While there are elements of the tortured artist in some of these cuts, one can't help but also be reminded of early Lou Barlow-era Dinosaur Jr. when Jurado goes electric. The best example of this is "I Am The Mountain." While not chock-full of angry, 1990s distortion, there's plenty in this I-don't-love-you-anymore song. And yet, in the end, On My Way To Absence manages to somehow be romantic and hopeful. Maybe it's like falling in love, but with your eyes open.
Track to burn: "Sucker"
Ryuichi Sakamoto is a chameleon in the world of arts. He began his musical career with Yellow Magic Orchestra in the 70s and has since composed film scores, released a host of varied solo recordings, worked with an array of avant garde artists, and is a DJ, actor and model. YMO were technopop catalysts and influenced techno, rave and even ambient music. Chasm is like a map connecting points via dotted lines that visit the long career of this classically-trained musician. The only fault in this set of diverse tunes is that, though individually the tracks are wonderful, they seem disjointed in the collection, as though recorded at different times and in different settings. "Undercooled" is a trancey hip-hop number while the reflective, David Sylvian-penned "World Citizen" balances out the jarring "Coro," which is a manipulation of feedback repetition that will stir the complacent into paying attention or, more likely, skip to the next tune. "War and Peace" is a chant of words written by Arto Lindsay where different voices of humanity repeat several mantras, which are blanketed by Sakamoto's ambient composition. The title track "Chasm," like many others, is a meditative electronica instrumental. "Seven Samurai" is the rarity in the bunch mainly using instrumentation and melodies of his native Japan. Chasm is currently a Japanese import and the domestic release is slated to hit the streets in three weeks.
Track to burn: Seven Samurai
Flies the Field
A band that includes both June of 44 and Rachels in its pedigree, the Shipping News' latest full length attempts to distil the group's previous music histories into a harmonious, side-by-side co-existence. Perhaps now you're wondering: the advanced calculus math rock of June of 44 and the gentle ambient textures of the Rachels? Are you stoned?
That's not the point. Despite the odds and all preconceptions, Flies the Fields works like its three full length predecessors — and maybe even better. Half of the eight cuts are elegant, regally paced ethereal laments suggesting soft-focus dreamscapes; the others have an insistent, unrelenting momentum, almost militaristic in feel, like the "jackhammer pilots" mentioned in the record's opener, "Axons and Dendrites."
Combining such radically different approaches works because the styles are an effective foil for each other. But the band's unwavering aesthetic and similar aural qualities — they are the same musicians, after all — link both song types into one coherent record. "Louven" may flow like a stream, reminiscent of slo-core experts Rex, and the next song, "(Morays or) Demon," may rock like a Rage Against the Machine outtake (filtered through Slint), but the transition is seamless, and that, like the rest of the record, is no small trick.
Track to burn: "(Morays or) Demon"