REVIEW: Damien Jurado & Gathered in Song: I Break Chairs
Damien Jurado and Gathered in Song: I Break Chairs [Subpop, 2002]
Two words? Lotsa noise.
We sad, alt.folk-loving mopers love our old standbys. Whenever we need to feel sorry for ourselves, we can slide on a disc by Songs:Ohia or Cat Power and cry into our sheets. With his previous releases - Rehearsals for Departure, Waters Ave S and, particularly, 2000's Ghost of David - Damien Jurado fit this mold. His yearning, arching voice and subtle guitar-work has made for heart-wrenching melodies, and this winds perfectly around his gift for lyrical storytelling.
On I Break Chairs, however, Jurado has enlisted a group of friends (Gathered in Song) and recorded an album that kicks away the chair, plugs in the guitar, and rocks in an afternoon barbecue kind of way. Sure, this isn't KISS grandstanding, but when Jurado sings "It's not the way that you look ... it's just the way it is ... I wanna be you," he is not going to stun anyone with his poetical profundity. "Paperwings" shows how things are going to be, straight from the start. Jurado pushes out his words over country-touched rock in the vein of Slobberbone, finally rising to a falsetto crest. His thick-as-leather voice is unmistakeable, and these songs showcase his pipes in a way that subtler, spoken-sung pieces would not, but I can't help but miss Jurado's use of dynamics, loud-to-soft, on Rehearsals for Departure. While most of his albums have featured noisy - or at least bouncy - tracks, here they are the norm, and when quieter songs kick in, they feel weak. Out of place. "Inevitable" is forgettable, "Air Show Disaster", despite its pleasant xylophone-and-harmony, is lumbersome, like a pulled tooth. "Like Titanic" is perhaps the best song on the album - quiet, and again pulling out the xylophone - and its strength is in its intelligence, its insight. Good words, good melody, nothing to distact. It's braver than the feedback of "Parade" or even the shoegaze-meets-Bright Eyes of "Castles".
Overall, I Break Chairs isn't a bad album - it has character, a strong singer, arresting songs. And yet, it lacks poignancy, and without this, Damien Jurado's songwriting cannot challenge, cannot ask, it can merely sing-and-dance.