Seattle singer/songwriter Damien Jurado is one of the better examples of the somewhat invisible but very real trend of gentle folk musicians who started out in hardcore bands. Along with Mark Thousands (whose work in Youth of Today gave way to a hushed solo career), Dan Littleton (the Hated to Ida), and even Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat and Fugazi eventually mellowing into the Evens), Jurado's punk past was held in stark contrast to the spare folk dirges that marked the beginnings of his solo career in the late '90s. While hardcore and indie folk might represent two extremes, the musicians who are versed in the ethos of punk tend to have a more imaginative approach to their folk leanings than those who come up in the sleepy coffeehouse scenes. Be it production, instrumentation, or political lyrical undertones, there's a slightly different perspective that's always under the surface. This has always been the case with Jurado, whose fragile voice and stoic playing have always just barely hidden themes of pain and longing more aggressive than helpless. With his tenth studio outing, Maraqopa, Jurado offers his most colorful and nuanced set of songs yet, and while they're a far cry from hardcore, they wander into places well removed -- and far more interesting -- than his earlier wounded troubador role. Beginning with the dusty road psychedelia of "Nothing Is the News," the album takes on a vividly live feel. Meandering lead guitars and bristling drums back up Jurado's ghostly multi-tracked vocal arrangements, sounding like a modern take on '70s British folk-rock. Some of his earlier work could fall under the Americana bracket, but the far-out production of Richard Swift, reprising the collaboration he and Jurado began on 2010's Saint Bartlett, pushes the songs to their least predictable limits. Echoplex-treated anguished screams, organ swells, and the shakingly creepy children's chorus backing up every line of "Life Away from the Garden" are perhaps the opposite of typically cloying Americana. Maraqopa reaches its peak on the Phil Spector-ish "Reel to Reel." The lush production packs in dozens of disjointed sounds yet remains wide open, offering ample room for Jurado to deliver earnestly beautiful lines to his subject: a bedroom rock star offering the narrator "The greatest songs I'll ever hear from a band you started in your mind." It's a touchingly naked moment, and ironically, happening in one of the busiest arrangements on the album. Painting from a broad palette of sounds and singing from a well of strong melodies, the record works best as a whole piece, revealing new elements and deeper dynamics with subsequent listens. While Jurado's life as an angry young punk may not be apparent from his work on Maraqopa, what can be heard vividly is a bold progression that encapsulates all the phases that came before it and results in his most adventurous and fulfilling work to date.
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AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas