Few artists embody the notion of cult appeal more than Damien Jurado. With a slew of albums, EPs and tour exclusive releases behind him, the reserved Seattle songwriter is 15 years into a career which has almost made flying under the radar an art form. Steadfastly following his muse, encompassing found recordings and audio fragments, bleak acoustics and raucous indie-rock, he has borne the results with equanimity and constantly moved on.
Maraqopa is Jurado’s 10th studio album, the second in collaboration with producer Richard Swift following 2010’s Saint Bartlett. That record was another quiet evolution of introspection, with strings soaking the songs, the mood roaming, even – whisper it – breezy at times. Maraqopa, however, hints that the wanderlust might be over, perhaps prompted by recent fatherhood. The domestic dominates lyrically – rooms, basements, lights, doors and gardens are all regularly referenced, and the everyday art to be found on his website suggests an exploration of internal space. Then there’s the title, one that hints at settling in an idealised, dusty territory, with Damien duly rocking the South American moustachioed despot look in the smeary cover photo. That is, we assume it’s him, but it’s difficult to be totally sure.
It’s a fitting image for the on-going musical redefinition that’s made plain from the outset. Nothing Is The News starts routinely enough with a robustly strummed guitar, but soon heralds a change of agenda, with the slow burning, ride cymbal-driven jam which follows blowing away any preconceptions of what Maraqopa should be. A fizzing, swirling bed of disembodied voices, spiralling samples and electronic flourishes provide the platform for extended, improvised guitar solos to counterpoint one other, reminiscent of Neil Young.
This, of course, just wouldn’t be a Jurado review without allusion to Young. Along with the uncompromising career arc, the similar nasal delivery is also duly present, every inch the comfortable old armchair of a voice that is Young’s trademark. To extend the analogy, in working with Richard Swift, Jurado might have now found his Jack Nitzsche. Maraqopa is clearly a more trusting and true musical collaboration, a record less about form but more in thrall to texture and presence, songs coloured in a new way. Where Saint Bartlett was the rumoured product of a week’s work, the songs on Maraqopa have clearly been built carefully from the ground up, the results all the richer for the purer collaboration.
Lest fans fret, Jurado’s trusty acoustic guitar is still involved in proceedings, but often at a remove – either present at the start of tracks before fading in the mix or, where integral, the song itself is shoved to the end of the record. Jurado diehards may baulk at discovering that instead there’s white noise, a children’s choir, and a flirtation with bossa nova. Reel To Reel features virtually no guitar, bubbling along instead on juddering synth, glockenspiel and the increasingly prevalent static, sounding like a stuttering diorama. But fans should persist. Despite the obviously painstaking production, the results here neither feel overwrought nor underwritten, more the product of a natural, homemade curiosity.
Subtlety is the order of the day; feet are placed with care. When the threads come together, as on Life Away From The Garden and Museum Of Flight, the results are irresistible. On the latter, Jurado forces his voice through the gears to a croaking, wounded falsetto refrain of “I’m so broke and foolishly in love”, set over tremulous guitars and stately synths. It’s an unalloyed joy. Maraqopa is, at times, a sumptuous sigh of a record, the sound of a man exploring a territory he’s earned the right to claim as his own.