damien jurado saint bartlett
    • THURSDAY, JUNE 24, 2010

    • Posted by:

    To say Damien Jurado spent the better part of his music career writing in relative obscurity would be an understatement. Since 1997, he's periodically churned out a number of high-quality albums, albeit albums that barely registered a blip on the musicsphere's radar. "Understatement" is perhaps the best word to describe Jurado's career and sound, and is a quiet corner that he seems to have curled into intentionally. The shadows give Jurado a freedom to do as he pleases.

    Saint Bartlett, Jurado's recent full-length, is indicative of his propensity for blending in with his surroundings. The album's lo-fi recording style — a trait that's manifested itself through most of Jurado's work — borrows heavily from different musical sweet spots. Elements from '60s girl groups, shoegaze, folk, and grunge all show face without announcing their arrival. Their sound is airy — much more two-dimensional than three — with each song existing like its own diorama. Each has its own story, and rather than trapping you atmospherically, is framed for appreciation at a distance.

    Jurado's voice is above-average, but he uses it extremely well with the right blend of melancholy and self-control. The man knows his limits, and doesn't try to overextend his chops. He makes up for it with smarts: he's very good at using the right tonal inflections at precisely the right times.

    A number of his tracks also use "found sounds" — another indicator of Jurado's wallflower appeal — to infuse the album with a common sort of realness. "Cloudy Shoes" and "Arkansas" are strong openers, combining folkish acoustics with different elements from southern gospel to create a textured sort of landscape — albeit one cut out of construction paper. "Wallingford" dips into fuzzy shoegaze territory, and is somewhat of an outlier from the stripped down sound exhibited throughout the rest of the album.

    Admittedly, Saint Bartlett became better and better the more I listened to it, and reveals an intimacy that becomes more complex when realized. Jurado might not be the life of the party, but if you take a few moments to really sit down with him, you'll walk home that night thinking, "That was a pretty good time." -chris gayomali

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