A back-to-basics record, Life Like finds Joan of Arc as a four-piece, the base trio of Tim Kinsella, bassist Bobby Burg, and drummer Theo Katsaounis joined by guitarist Victor Villareal. (For those unaware, Villareal and Kinsella are longtime friends who forged a new working relationship after their former band Cap'n Jazz reunited in 2010.) The quartet returned from a long European tour and immediately entered Electrical Audio with Steve Albini at the helm; five days later they emerged with Life Like. Kinsella sounds rejuvenated having Villareal back in the studio with him; the ten-minute opener "I Saw the Messed Binds of My Generation" encapsulates an instrumental warm-up plus the token confessional indie rock.
As the sole full time member of Joan Of Arc, Tim Kinsella doesn’t make life easy for himself. Despite his deft skills as a songwriter and lyricist, he sometimes seems too willing to experiment and obscure his work behind concepts that don’t always come across as well as intended. On the one hand, this does mean that as a band, Joan Of Arc rarely repeats itself, an admirable quality, and one that can provide rewarding results for the long-term fan.
Somewhere near the beginning of “Howdy Pardoner”, which is somewhere near the end of Joan of Arc’s Life Like, bandleader Tim Kinsella wonders if “there’s some connection between mass species extinction/and the common production values of ass.” Think about that for a second. Is there? What are “the common production values of ass”, exactly? Mainstream pornography? Boring sex? Intimacy made trite by media oversaturation? Two out of three or all of the above? I don’t think it really matters. What does matter is that Kinsella doesn’t seem to like sex much, or is at least more interested in its banalities than its pleasures.
The artwork for Joan of Arc’s latest release Life Like depicts a confused and unfortunate robot haplessly trying to get out of a torrential downpour. Umbrella in hand and a weary demeanor you can imagine him saying to himself, “I knew I should not have taken a shower today, this always happens.” Making his way through the partially drawn streets not sure what challenges await, the artwork reminds me of what I encountered when I first started this album up. There is always an air of uncertainty and trepidation in venturing into unfamiliar and seemingly hostile territory.