Release Date: Jan 20, 2017
Record label: Joyful Noise
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Post-Rock
Tim Kinsella and crew have reconvened Joan of Arc after a studio pause since Life Like came out in 2011 to ask a very timely question: “What the fuck?!” Rarely have they had their finger so squarely on the pulse. In his distinctly bent way, Kinsella has dropped politics into the Joan of Arc blender before, mostly prominently on Joan of Arc, Dick Cheney, Mark Twain in 2004. The state of the Union feels as unavoidable now in 2017 as it did back then, but, America-ish title and all, He’s Got the Whole This Land Is Your Land in His Hands doesn’t assume the role of protest record.
Depending on the listener, it's either nice or frustrating to see that after 20 years and 17 albums, Joan of Arc haven't changed a bit. When the Chicago band released their debut LP, A Portable Model Of… in 1997, the band received mixed reviews for their use of unusual song structures, quirky melodies and their un-emo use of electronics, but over two decades, they amassed a diehard following, making just gentle variations on their sound. On the very Joan of Arc-titled He's Got the Whole This Land is Your Land in His Hands, their first full-length in four years, the quartet have seemed to relax their manic style of songwriting in favour of something more ethereal (well, ethereal for them).
It’s hard to avoid the creeping feeling that, for one reason or another, the recent wave of emo nostalgia hasn’t been especially kind to Joan of Arc, who don’t seem to have been remembered as fondly amongst the retrospectives as contemporaries like American Football or, indeed, predecessors where Tim Kinsella’s concerned - Cap’n Jazz, for instance. On the face of it, that shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise; Joan of Arc were never the easiest band in the world to like, and at times it felt like Kinsella used it as a vehicle simultaneously for both his most awkward musical ideas and lyrics that bordered on misanthropic at times, usually being presented through the prism of his decidedly off-beat sense of humour. After all, it’s not as if there isn’t compelling evidence in recent years of Kinsella being more than capable of screwing on his serious head, especially on the unlikely second Owls album Two in 2014, the accessible nature of which was as disarming as the fact that it even got made in the first place.
He's Got the Whole This Land Is Your Land in His Hands is the first "proper" full-length from long-running Chicago experimenters Joan of Arc since their 2012 self-titled LP. During the five-year gap, they did release Testimonium Songs, an album of music written for a theater project based on the long-form work Testimony by poet Charles Reznikoff. In late 2016, they also toured briefly in celebration of the group's 20th anniversary.
“We’ve never had an audience that gets any validation of its coolness through liking us,” Tim Kinsella writes of Joan of Arc. That’s putting it delicately. For a good stretch of their two decade run, Joan of Arc were the most hated act in emo, unpopular with listeners, critics, and at times seemingly their own record label. Revisiting reviews of their old albums is a crash course in just how vicious music criticism could be around the turn of the century.
Joan Of Arc’s new album opens with three words that could just as easily serve as its tagline: “What the fuck?” For the bulk of its career, the perpetually shifting Joan Of Arc has rarely, if ever, played things straight. Its first three albums remain the most accessible and traditionally indie-rock in its catalog, followed by soundtracks to theater pieces, lengthy instrumental works, and chopped-and-screwed Pro Tools experiments, all with a lineup just as prone to change. A cursory glance at the band’s discography shows just how much output it’s managed in its 20-plus-year existence, with Tim Kinsella always being the leader of these assorted wanderings.