The Maraqopa trilogy comes to a fascinating end with a dreamy, out-of-body experience for its main character.
Ever since the turn of the current decade, the music of veteran singer/songwriter Damien Jurado has seen an exciting, almost criminally under-appreciated string of experimental dream-folk offerings. This can’t be labeled as a revival, because Jurado’s career has never hit any sort of lull as he’s been one of the more consistent – if often overlooked – artists in all of music for two full decades. I suppose it can be appropriately seen as an energetic change of direction that stems directly from the fruitful, prolific collaboration between he and producer Richard Swift. Starting with 2010’s Saint Bartlett, the two have have pushed one another musically to leave no creative landscape unexplored, and this restless experimentation culminates today to their fourth outing; the wonderful Visions of Us on the Land.
It wasn’t exactly a crystal clear scenario for the listener to decipher the beginning of a trilogy when listening to Maraqopa in 2012, but the two full-lengths that have followed since definitely confirm a complete collective universe. The progression of the output on consistent bi-annual releases throughout this decade have seen Jurado & Swift enhancing their grip and focus, building one of the more fruitful relationships among all current duo-collaborators in music. Longtime Jurado fans knew that the opening seconds of “Cloudy Shoes” on Saint Bartlett marked an exciting new sonic territory for him, but I’m not sure anyone could have foreseen just how substantial that kind of moment was, as it signaled an experimental journey between two artists that hasn’t stopped since, and it steamrolls on to these outstanding Visions.
Extremely early on in this 17-track opus on “Mellow Blue Polka Dot”, there’s a hypnotizing moment mid-song that features a re-emergence of “Silver Timothy”, a highlight from the middle album in the trilogy, Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son. It’s a signal that not only are alternate realities colliding, but so is the past, present, and even the reflective afterlife lens as our main character looks on after presumably not surviving a devastating car crash. This mesmerizing piece makes way for a true mood-setter; the vast and psychedelic-tinged “Qachina”. It is from this moment, where Jurado & Swift have never felt more locked in, that Visions clearly becomes the pinnacle of their impressive work together. The album is so close to perfection that it actually makes the two albums that preceded it that much better on when listened to as a whole.
By the time Jurado is done touring with this album (which will hopefully be his most successful run to date) he will have entered into his twentieth year as a solo artist. In a just world, he’ll receive his due in time. An album like Visions of Us on the Land is an extremely special achievement in a career marked by consistency, introspective lyrical snapshots into hard-luck drifter’s lives, and more recently an unpredictable, progressively rewarding sonic direction influenced by one of music’s most imaginative independent producers. Throughout these 17 wildly captivating tunes, we’re fortunate to lay our ears to the best of all Jurado’s talents. From the stardust of “A.M. A.M.”, to the poignant throwback poetry of haunting closer “Kola”, this is one of the best records from the first quarter of 2016.