Release Date: Mar 18, 2016
Record label: Secretly Canadian
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Trilogies, by their very nature, make for uneven listens when taken as a whole. Usually produced over lengthy periods, with ideas only ever taking form over the gestation and sometimes frittering away, the purity of the initial concept can get lost, with the water muddied as the work progresses. This is not a problem that appears to have troubled Damien Jurado.
With Visions of Us on the Land, Damien Jurado completes a neo-psychedelic trilogy seemingly tailor-made for those who grew up in the 1970s. The pre-punk, pre-disco 1970s were a very weird time to be a kid. It was a time when your neighbor’s wife might spend a few hours a day meditating inside of a plastic pyramid, a time when a buddy might slip you a copy of The Late, Great Planet Earth, Hal Lindsey’s best-selling paranoid Cold War end-of-the-world prophecy, and mutter something along the lines of “If this is real, what’s the point, ya know?” UFO paranoia was everywhere; another of your friends probably had a copy of Erich von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods, which claimed that ancient civilizations had been in contact with extraterrestrials who had brought the technology to build the pyramids to Earth.
On his 12th studio LP, Visions of Us on the Land, revered songwriter's songwriter Damien Jurado continues a trend of moving incrementally deeper into psychedelic textures since beginning to work with producer Richard Swift three albums ago. Their fourth collaboration evokes a flickering aurora peering through charcoal clouds with its swirl of heavy folk-rock and contemplative psychedelia. That quality is accentuated by Jurado's soft-landing vocals, which due to context recall the Zombies' Colin Blunstone more than ever.
Throughout his career, Damien Jurado has proven to be a quite versatile, eclectic, and prolific songwriter. His songs excel thanks to his raw and reflective lyrics and unmistakable singing voice. Since he first teamed up with producer Richard Swift for his 2010 album Saint Bartlett, Jurado has found a like-minded tag-team partner. Over the past six years they crafted Jurado's ambitious three-album fantasy-based trilogy, beginning with 2012's Maraqopa and 2014's Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son, and finishing with this year's Visions of Us on the Land.
Visions of Us on the Land, the third instalment of Damien Jurado's concept trilogy that began with Maraqopa in 2012 and was followed by Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son in 2014, concludes the veteran, Seattle-based singer-songwriter's haunting, soft-psych story about disappearances, parallel realities and universal truths. The 17 songs here are an expansive set in which Jurado's imagined protagonist searches for meaning in fictional times and places. Somewhere between "Mellow Blue Polka Dot" and "ONALASKA," though, the album's mood-altering ability starts to take effect, and by the time "Orphans in the Key of E" and "Kola" roll around, it's unclear where the ghostly atmosphere begins and ends and whether that's you, Jurado, his avatar or someone else entirely in the polaroid.
There’s a psychedelic, spiritual journey culminating on Damien Jurado’s latest album, Visions of Us on the Land, but it’s only one of two fascinating story arcs coming to fruition. There’s the journey of the character debuted in 2012’s Maraqopa, and then there’s Jurado himself. But before delving into the sprawling and inventive world Jurado has created, it’s important to zoom out and appreciate where the songwriter is coming from.
The third entry in his informal Maraqopa trilogy – a string of rustic, lightly psychedelic records themed around an imaginary hippie commune – Visions finds the Americana-peddling Seattleite treading familiar ground and checking in with some friendly faces. Loyal fans will catch a clever nod or two – the hook from 2014’s Silver Timothy reappears here, submersed in dreamy echo like a foggy memory – but all listeners should benefit from the alluring sense of history that undergirds Jurado’s well-worn characters. His existential cowboy persona is an easy favourite, a groovy lost soul who wanders 'long road[s] to unwind' amid adventurous productions that bring to mind quirky 60s icon Lee Hazlewood.
Now 12 full-length studio albums in, Damien Jurado has always seemed dutiful rather than prolific. The Seattle singer-songwriter, who began his career in the mid-’90s after being discovered by Sub Pop, has released records at basically a two-year clip. And while much of his early work with Secretly Canadian—the label he moved to in the mid-’00s—flaunts the ambiance of a dude alone on stage with nothing more than a wooden stool, a microphone, and an acoustic guitar, his last handful of albums are off-kilter exploratory crusades.
Damien Jurado — Visions of Us on the Land (Secretly Canadian)Visions of Us on the Land is the third installment in a trilogy that began with Maraqopa, a mystical journey in which Jurado seeks (Maraqopa), finds (Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son) and leaves (Visions of Us on the Land) an alternative reality set somewhere in the western American desert. It is, at the same time, a series of albums in which the songwriter leaves conventional guy-on-stool-with-guitar folk rock behind to create swirling, engulfing psychedelias with producer/arranger Richard Swift. The story for Visions is that Jurado (or the Jurado character) leaves the alien outpost Maraqopa and its silver inhabitants to travel the roads with Silver Katherine.