March 1, 2012
Review: Damien Jurado – ‘Maraqopa’
Damien Jurado – Maraqopa
Damien Jurado has never been short of competition in the field of Oregon folky-types, having to find his own space between bands like The Shins and The Fleets (to call the Fleet Foxes by their correct ’90s Britpop name). A string of albums and EPs from 1995 onwards saw the reclusive singer-songwriter establish a very personable and intimate performance style — one that sauntered through heartland rock during a three-year spell with Sub Pop before returning to the acoustic folk of his roots. Now he returns with Maraqopa; a more in-depth exploration of the genre’s past that shows a maturing performer not afraid to skirt the fringes of experimentation.
All of this perhaps makes it even more disappointing, then, that by the time the kitsch “doo doo da doo”s of ‘This Time Next Year’ have given way to the song’s whimsical tropidelica-folk stylings, much of Maraqopa’s early promise has evaporated. The tracks’s direct precedents saw Jurado on an enjoyably nostalgic trip down America’s west coast during the tail end of the ’60s, taking in the psych-folk of CSNY’s Déjà Vu (‘Nothing Is In the News’) and that of the rest of the Laurel Canyon crew (the fantastic ‘Life Away From The Garden’, ‘Maraqopa’).
The album’s subsequent nosedive is all the more surprising when considering that Jurado’s last effort, 2010’s stark triumph Saint Bartlett, was constructed from the same building blocks as this. Producer/performer Richard Swift is again at the controls, and the chemistry between the two can’t help but show itself on tracks like the magisterial ‘Reel To Reel’; a swirl of vibrato keys and tinkling xylophones over a Wrecking Crew beat and all soaked in the rain of the pair’s Pacific Northwest. But outside of its briefly attractive moments, Maraqopa is a collaboration that largely fails — a nonplussed sigh of an album, if you will.
There is very little of Saint Bartlett’s raw immediacy; nothing of the wearied splendour of ‘With Lightning In Your Hands’; no sign of the despondent, Neil Young ditch trilogy-type resignation that ran through ‘Rachel And Cali’. ‘Working Titles’ is a self-deprecating bit of introspection in triple time, its ’50s doo-wop group chorus harmonies elevating an otherwise mediocre arrangement, while there really is no excusing the run of second-rate acoustic workouts that constitutes the final four tracks. From twee throwaway ‘Everyone A Star’ to the barefaced filler of ‘Museum Of Flight’, they form a thick slab of schmaltzy wallpaper that culminates in closer ‘Mountains Still Asleep’’s trudging country-folk.
To give him his dues, Jurado has created what might be considered a progressive follow up to the finest moment of his 17-year career: an album that shows both range and an adeptness with pastiche. Yet it’s ultimately a swing-and-a-miss, one not rescued by brief moments of interest and fleeting glimpses of Jurado’s unquestionably strong songwriting ability.
Read this review in context over at THE STOOL PIGEON