Over his nearly 20-year career, singer-songwriter Damien Jurado has managed to bounce from one genre to the next, displaying incredible versatility but never losing his characteristically intimate and honest voice. From the timeless pop songwriting in 1999’s Rehearsals For Departure, to the churning, crunching rock in 2002’s I Break Chairs, and the understated, tender folk ballads of 2008’s Caught In The Trees, no matter what he releases, it still manages to sound like Jurado. Furthered by working with producer Richard Swift on his latest exceptional offerings, 2010’s Saint Bartlett and 2012’s Maraqopa, he expanded his palate even more, delving into vintage girl group pop, trippy psychedelia, and baroque chamber tunes.
His latest, Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son, is no exception. Continuing his remarkable collaboration with Swift, Jurado pushed himself to make his freest, most ambitious LP yet. Unlike Maraqopa, which showcased Jurado pushing his sound but still clinging to excellent but somewhat safe numbers like “Working Titles” and “Museum of Flight”, Brothers and Sisters is his riskiest album to date. It’s marked by unbridled freedom, reggae and dub-influenced jams, and its own labyrinth of spiritual mythology. Despite the risks, the album is still accessible and works even more cohesively without the discernible radio-ready singles of its predecessor.
Working as a sequel of sorts to Maraqopa, the new album follows, (as the album trailer describes) a guy who disappears in search of himself and never returns home. It’s a mystical journey, and Jurado’s subtly present Christian faith undoubtedly inspires the quest. For his part, Swift pays close attention to harmonies and peculiar instrumentation in Jurado’s previously sparse folk. The pairing has brought out the best in both, and the Laurel Canyon folk rock stylings mixed with lush, psychedelic atmospherics give the journeyman’s album its cosmic gravitas.
A prime example of this is the single “Silver Timothy”, the first instance of five silver-titled tracks on the album. During the track, Jurado floats over spacey synths, a mix of straightforward and latin-tinged percussion, and repetitive, intermittently soaring guitars. Urgency fills the mysterious track with his opening line: “I was met on the road by a face I once knew/ Shapeless was his frame and his colors were few.” This sort of mystery pervades the album’s narrative, often to great effect, but on certain occasions gets lost in its own melodrama and mythology. “Jericho Road”, one example of that latter description, filters Jurado’s croon, distorting it to indecipherability, along with overwrought instrumentation
Despite that one misfire, the album at its most experimental is often revelatory. For example, Brothers and Sisters is anchored by the epic and sprawling six-minute “Silver Donna”. Originally meant to be twice as long, the spiraling jam is marked by a throbbing bass line and a brilliant percussive core. Jurado’s searing falsetto is looped, making the call and response “oohs” towards the end of the track stunningly affecting and cathartic. It’s a fantastic way to slightly build up a song, carefully adding sounds piece by piece, he layering and syncopation establishing it as one of the album’s best.
After “Silver Donna”, the album tracks back to his trademark Pacific Northwest woodsy folk in the final few album cuts. The quietly fingerpicked “Silver Katherine”, with its Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young harmonies, proves why Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold has often cited Jurado as an influence. Additionally, the plucky, Beatles-esque highlight “Suns In Our Mind” brightly ends the album. The second half is not exactly a jarring shift from the propulsive and experimental first, but instead its subdued nature works thematically, signifying an end to the protagonist’s turbulent spiritual quest.
Jurado has always been a songwriter plagued by his own consistency. Even though his albums have always lingered on the edge of greatness, his ability to maintain this level of quality has made it difficult for him to cross that line. If anything, Brothers and Sisters shows the songwriter at his most adventurous, aspiring for something bigger in a new direction. This record could be the album he’s needed to make. Those familiar with Jurado’s work will find it his most drastic departure, but like his previous dives into new directions, it never really clouds his stellar songwriting. Fully jumping into the record is a lot to take on, especially having to unravel its story and bizarre silver-themed imagery. But, with songs as strong as these, the plunge is well worth taking.
Essential Tracks: “Magic Number”, “Silver Donna”, and “Suns In Our Mind”