Saturday, 26 July 2003

Album Review: Holding His Breath

Another year, another label for Damien Jurado. That's five labels in four years now, for the Seattle-born songsmith. This time he has elected to move away from North America and has relocated to Spanish label, Acuarela, taking with him his stylish tales of the macabre.

I Am the Greatest of All Liars delivers a first-person list of iniquities such as, "I'm the blood upon your sheets / I'm the air you cannot breathe," over a primitive piano and simple drum for less than two minutes. Jurado's manner is off-the-cuff, proving again that he's right at home with such morbid subject matter. Dark as it is, at just under two-minutes, it is quick and painless.

Now You're Swimming ("Now you're swimming / it don't even feel right"), employs the same haunting balance of sparse, lo-fi acoustic architecture to frame a quick, bleak, personal narrative that we've come to expect from Jurado. It's this kind of song that Jurado has built a career around, so it should come as no surprise that this is the standout track. While Jurado didn't write it (it's a cover of 764-Hero), he quite easily could have meaning that his murmured vocal sounds right at home.

Oh Death Art With Me and 'Big Let Down' sound like Waters Ave S.-era Jurado. Oh Death... has Jurado in typically depressed mood, as he mutters, "The Devil just wants your soul / he's had his eyes on you since the day you stepped in this world." Jurado excels at the macabre, and this track is terrifically gloomy. Long time collaborator Rosie Thomas performs backing vocals on Big Let Down, a track highly reminiscent of Parking Lot from Jurado's seminal Ghost Of David LP. The track is a whispered tale of a relationship in disrepair. The final track, Butcher's Boy is a cover of a Peggy Seeger song. Here, Jurado further cements his standing as one of the finest singers around as he captures the heartbreak of the song with his trademark unaffected style.

While the five tracks mesh fairly well together, it isn't as cohesive as any of Jurado's albums; but few EPs are. And while the harshest critics may accuse him of treading all-too-familiar territory, the rest of us will continue to enjoy Jurado's uniquely bleak and isolated tales.

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