In 2010, Seattle folk troubadour Damien Jurado teamed up with producer Richard Swift to craft one of the most immersive, and best, records in his 15-year career: Saint Bartlett. With Swift’s bleak, dream-folk production breathing new life into already robust anatomy, the record was atmospheric, anthemic, evocative, and, because it was a Jurado album, it got only a fraction of the acclaim it deserved.
But Jurado has gotten used to his relative obscurity, and it hasn’t stopped him from joining forces with Swift for round two, in what the duo has dubbed Maraqopa–the latest addition to the ever-changing landscape of one of folk music’s most talented, ostensibly muddled minds. Jurado continues to explore the far-reaching bounds of his craft, which is something rarely said of a folk-musician–if you can even call him that at this point–this deep into the thick of things.
With the production even more encompassing than last go-round, one can’t help but see this as, among other things, an album largely about the very process of creating, producing, and sewing together sounds. A look at the layered album art and some of the track names alone (“Reel to Reel”, “Working Titles”, both songs about a troubled musician locking himself away in dark rooms and dark songs–seemingly about Jurado himself) conveys a fascination with putting songs to tape.
Maraqopa spans genres, production techniques, and songwriting styles, all while retaining an overarching and unifying aesthetic: a cohesive haze of distance. It’s a semi-conscious daze of a pop record. We’re half awake in a fake empire.
And, somehow, it all makes sense: Phil Spector doo-wop spewed out through a fog machine, a slow-churning folk musician backed by a blazed Philly soul band, 60’s-tinged dream-pop played by a junkie, helium-sucking gospel singers, insanely catchy vocal turns. It’s the sounds of dreaming about what Leonard Cohen’s Death of a Ladies Man would sound like if even more–and generally more fucked up–people were involved, while simultaneously trying to remember where you left your whiskey.
From scatterbrained opener “Nothing in the News”, fit with aimless guitar solos, walloping organs, and found sounds, it’s a deliberate mess of an album. It also features some of his most pop-inclined, semi-uplifting, ear-candy, yet (“Reel to Reel”, “Museum of Flight”).
Throughout its many turns, Jurado loses himself in the production, but that seems to be the precise point.
Essential Tracks: “Reel to Reel”, “Museum of Flight”, “Maraqopa”, “This Time Next Year”