Album Review: Damien Jurado - Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son

I first listened to Damien Jurado‘s 11th album, Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son, while walking through our shared hometown of Seattle on a particularly rainy day. The first formidable moments of “Magic Number,” transported me into a movie full of earnest life truths. Like his 2012 album, Maraqopa, Brothers and Sisters has instant cinematic appeal, with which Jurado creates a world of his own to set his stories.

Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son will not only please the extensive Seattle fan base this artist has quietly been building for nearly two decades but also a broader spectrum of critics. Jurado’s methods have always been noteworthy -- he’s been known to compile field recordings to sample in his music and to draw on eclectic styles. But 2010 marked the beginning of his collaboration with musical soul-mate and producer, and occasional keyboardist for The Shins, Richard Swift. The first two results of this ideal partnership were Jurado’s critically acclaimed albums Saint Bartlett and Maraqopa. Swift creates vast, sweeping soundscapes and brings a fine-tuned ear to support Jurado’s incorporation of diverse influences in his folk-rock style.

Riding the momentum of these two releases, Jurado and Swift pushed the boundaries of genre even farther with Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son. Thematically and musically, Brothers and Sisters acts as a sequel to Jurado’s previous album, Maraqopa. In the trailer for Brothers and Sisters, Jurado describes the album as the story of “a man who disappears on a search for himself and never goes home.” This is presumably the same character who, in Maraqopa, makes the decision to disappear. Any doubts about the connection between albums are dispelled by the third track, “Return To Maraqopa,” where Jurado bring us back to the utopic backdrop of the fictional town Maraqopa in his heavier, majestic beats. This dreamland is intricately crafted by an extensive cast of characters that wander through their tangible landscape of sound.

There is an unmistakably religious tone to Jurado’s latest release. “Jericho Road” sounds like the theme to some kind of Western version of the Good Samaritan parable (it’s also the name of a Christian boy band). Despite this religious motif and Jurado’s own faith, however he defines it, the musician has given the following advice in the past: “Music should in no way shape or form be used as a platform for religion or politics... Don’t think for one second you are going to persuade anyone to come to know Jesus or vote democrat or republican, because of a song. If you do, you’re a fool.” This idea is supported by his friend Josh Tillman (Father John Misty), who wrote a thoughtful, albeit verbose, essay about Brothers and Sisters: “Faith is like theater: it isn’t meant to be read, or analyzed it is meant to be performed and inhabited.” What results from Jurado’s lengthy and whimsical references to religious symbols and natural phenomena is a faith of its own which his characters must navigate. The music video for Jurado’s lead single, “Silver Timothy,” illustrates this world, with a lost Jurado-esque character navigating the Oregon wilderness. The video ends in a subtle encounter with a presumably divine extraterrestrial.

The most notable evolutions on the album are Jurado’s often layered and obscured vocals, and a wider base of influences. He is unafraid to explore unfamiliar styles. ”Silver Malcolm” would sound fairly natural on the Flaming Lips’ Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, yet Jurado doesn’t cross over into psychedelic space rock. On “Silver Joy,” Jurado bears an uncanny similarity to acoustic folk legend Nick Drake, yet Swift and Jurado cite a reggae mentality in creating the album. Jurado stays remarkably consistent and familiar while experimenting with such a variety of influences and vocals. Jurado describes this as stretching the silly putty that is his music. Don’t let these changes scare you off, Brothers and Sisters maintains qualities of Jurado’s music that fans have come to anticipate, like the lengthy, candid recording sampled in the jovial album closer “Suns In Our Mind,” or the recognizable guitar and drum pacing of “Silver Donna.”

While Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son seems intimidatingly awash with symbolism and deeper meaning, it is music that begs for the listener’s personal interpretation. There is no right or wrong answer. If your interpretation is to simply air drum the hell out each track, I say embrace it.

Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son comes out Tuesday, January 21, from Secretly Canadian. Damien Jurado is performing in Seattle tomorrow night, Friday, January 17, at the Neptune Theatre.

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