The cover of Damien Jurado‘s latest album is an image that has been bugging me for a few weeks now. A solitary man (Jurado himself) stands, slightly hunched, at the edge of a large lake at the centre of which is a huge geodesic dome. The image conjures up an idea of exclusion, of a solitude that is perhaps not wanted, but rather forced upon the figure who seems so dejected in his stance. I’m also reminded of Sky Blue, a South Korean anime which depicts a future in which environmental catastrophe has led to the elite classes constructing protected cities which maintain a reasonable atmosphere, whilst the working classes toil amidst pollution to provide energy for the cities they are denied access to.
Jurado’s music, a kind of futuristic folk, continues to inspire these kind of images for me as he draws from the rich history of American music and incorporates these sounds with a more forward thinking production and tinkering. Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son opens with a distant acoustic guitar, before the percussion lifts the song and a psychedelic swirling is introduced. ‘Magic Number’ is very much a scene setter, with Jurado hinting at a mundanity in which there is “work to be done” and steady passage of time. Yet even here, right at the very outset of the album there is a sense of mysticism and myth that comes not only from the psychedelic soundscapes that provide backing to Jurado’s guitar and quiet vocals, but also the way he sings “it’s my time to confuse”. The second verse, similarly uses far more evocative imagery as we are told of a stranger who arrived one morning and opened up the protagonist’s mind to new possibilities.
“I was met on the road by a face I once knew / shapeless was his frame and his colours were few”
That’s how the following track ‘Silver Timothy opens. It’s here that the weaving of American folk stories, religion and science fiction that features throughout Brothers and Sisters, really begins. The singer met on the road by a supernatural being instantly calls to mind the legend of Robert Johnson. Yet the character in ‘Silver Timothy’ doesn’t exactly meet the devil, rather a replica of himself. Brothers and Sisters weaves these folkish tales with sci-fi elements.
‘Metallic Cloud’ is a great example of this. Amidst the piano and acoustic guitar there are ambient swirls over which Jurado sings of someone on life-support (it’s been suggested that this follows a car accident). The metallic cloud of the title is the machine keeping the person alive – “it’s a temporary fix / in case you don’t come down”. The following track, ‘Jericho Road’, with its references to resurrections and crashes, seems to continue the individual’s tale; it certainly serves as a counterpoint to the contemplative nature of the former track, with it’s booming drums and grand strings. I fact it could be argued that ‘Jericho Road’ is both the crash and the aftermath shown backwards as referenced by ‘Metallic Cloud’s line concerning life lived in reverse.
It’s been a few months since I started listening to Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son and I still feel no closer to unwrapping its secrets. Jurado has crafted a rich sonic tapestry that is still revealing bits of itself. Glimpses of new sounds, a buried vocal that opens up more of the wider narrative and an allusion that there is something larger than all of this to be found. What that is, I’m not sure, and it might not even be something that can be found within just this album – ‘Return to Maraqopa’ draws a link back to Jurado’s previous records, so perhaps that’s where my journey through this wilderness should take me next.