4 May 2018
Restlessness has always been a characteristic of Damien Jurado‘s creative spark. Creative restlessness led him to exploring the music made as an expression of the early 70’s Jesus-freak movement, which inspired the Maraquopa trilogy, all produced with Richard Swift (Maraquopa, Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Sun, and Visions of Us on the Land). Lately, a restlessness with the current models and practices of the music industry itself has driven his choices as he has explored alternatives to standard practices. For instance, he began his “50 State Tour” in 2017 with the idea of spending a week or so in a randomly chosen state and playing shows set up outside the standard venue system in places far removed from large city concert access. And now, he has released his first self-produced record, The Horizon Just Laughed, with an eye on the fractured music market, deliberately holding the record from streaming services until it has had a chance to reach listeners and fans through all other options.
The Horizon Just Laughed is both a departure from and an extension of some of the ideas Jurado and Swift explored during their long collaboration. Like the records in the trilogy, this is an album guided by a sense of displacement and quest, but where those odd and beautiful records culminated in a science fiction-like quest of spiritual transcendence, here one is treated to a sequence of more terrestrial snapshots, Jurado’s narratives presenting a collection of travelers linked by a sense of disconnection and dislocation. These song stories all find individuals struggling to make a connection with others in a continually fractious world while surrounded by common signifiers whose messages have become disjointed.
The narrator of “1973” contemplates his disappointments and personal delusions, like Charlie Brown perpetually believing he’ll get to kick the football or pitch a baseball without ending up on his back. On his way to an assignation he will never make, he sings “My girl Lucy waits for me to bend my knee / But the diamond doesn’t shine, and I can’t make the payments on our telephone ring.” In “Percy Faith” the narrator bemoans the loss of that great singer’s voice from the nation’s airwaves while wandering a future landscape where “the people never look you in the eye / and there is no need to talk and the sidewalks they walk for you.” Lest anyone mistake this future world for progress, he notes, “I know everything and yet no one at all.”
Many of the figures who populate these songs are engaged in a search for self, whether suffering from a sense of a self previously lost or hoping for a new version to slip into like a new coat. Whatever the situation, whether carried or created, identity is a burden. “I forgot I was human and I laid out my emotions, and I knocked them like dishes to the floor,” Jurado sings in “Carry Me Over Rainbows and Rainier”. For the characters Jurado created in this collection, all searching for some revelation, it is self-revelation that brings the deepest conflicts and risks the greatest dangers. In the beautiful, meandering “The Last Great Washington State”, Jurado sings “The phone is a gossip, the clock is a murderer / My time is her burden, her voice is a slumber / How long have we been here? I can’t quite remember my name.” It’s hard work, and harder still to maintain one’s sense of perspective and, maybe more so, decency, which the singer of “Florence Jean” seems to acknowledge with a mix of sincerity and regret: “I had a way to express myself / I had a way, to be honest.”
The Horizon Just Laughed finds Jurado, like the stray souls that populate his songs, restless and searching. As those drifting souls sometimes learn, it’s often the journey itself that reveals more about the person or principle at hand.” What good is living if you can’t write your ending?” he wryly asks at one point. The answer might be that you get to keep on living/writing wherever the currents of time and tide may take you. Jurado remains a songwriter to follow where ever he may lead.
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