There are few names as revered in the underground Chicago scene as Tim Kinsella. The plethora of releases, under his name or with bands like the now legendary Cap’n Jazz and the mutable lineup-ed Joan of Arc, crowd many a record collection in the city. A good friend used to frequent the Rainbo on fourth-hand word that the guy tended the bar. The latest self-titled Joan of Arc release finds Kinsella’s voice and acoustic unaccompanied, a stark reminder of both his staying power and his cult status.
When Kinsella coos the line “and stamina has proven to be the final virtue” on album opener “Stamina”, he could very easily be lauding his own unflappable, prolific pace. Considering the prominence of characters and the alternate title of the album, Charlie Chaplin and the Elephant Man, that assumption is easily tamped. Where other releases traded in musical complexities, Joan of Arc strips the process down only to affirm Kinsella’s forceful narrative intricacy.
“John Merrick Song” is sung from the so-called Elephant Man’s point of view, lines about the beauty of flowers and the fact that “they never could figure out how to effectively bathe me” delivered in equally frank tenor. The hyper-referential tact goes beyond historical figures; “Need New Body and the Dead Milkmen” hints at its influences not so subtly in its title. The dark-bending turn reminds of Thurston Moore’s recent acoustic work, a venom lying in wait. These strategies provide an accessible difficulty, the guitar parts lulling you into a feeling of closeness before reminding you just how singular these examples are.
Closer “Chaplinesque” sits apart from the rest of the disc in as many ways as possible. The near-16 minutes of five open-chord, droning acoustic guitars was commissioned to score the Tramp’s His New Job, a blissful, visceral overabundance that churns from ear to ear as a kick drum pushes in. That said, its addition after a handful of sparse, straightforward tracks upsets the cart, like the half of some other record tacked on to this one, each begging for more of the same.
Essential Tracks: “Stamina”, “Chaplinesque”