On Damien Jurado’s 10th album, the tried and true folk bard is quick to turn on himself — not a comfortable task for a solo performer who stares into seas of people nightly. “Many nights you would hide from the audience/ When they were not in tune with your progress,” he sings on “Working Titles,” as angelic harmonies glide in for some reprieve. “In the end you’re a fool like a journalist/ Who turns what she’s seeing into business.”
The lyrical self-flagellation is not entirely new to Jurado’s catalogue; he is an extraordinarily sensitive singer-songwriter, one whose reedy voice and deft lo-fi arrangements do little to offset his frequent anguish. He has rested comfortably on cult idolatry for well over a decade by singing with a thoughtful hitch in his throat, largely eschewing the gratuitous noise of his hardcore punk youth. Yet on Maraqopa, his liveliest yet, he indulges in all the lush, psychedelic instrumentation that his modest prior efforts have only suggested; as the acidic opener “Nothing is the News” portends, the plentiful backing vocals and writhing guitar solos are the work of a brazenly confident artist.
One of the album’s tersest tracks, “So On, Nevada,” finds his delicate vocal chords straining to something akin to a yowl, acoustic strings providing thoughtful counterpoint; it echoes the more overt intensity of his 2010 record, St. Bartlett, his initial collaboration with Maraqopa producer Richard Swift. It contrasts so beautifully and unexpectedly the album’s longest track, the swooning Wall of Sound pop ballad “Reel to Reel,” of both prove equally clear glimpses of Jurado’s mercurial mind; as he croons on the latter’s heroine, “The greatest songs I’ll ever hear from a band you started in your mind.” This is the crux of Jurado’s excellent effort, it seems: closing the balance between impulse and craftsmanship, letting both unfurl fully with ease. This, in every way that matters, is progress.