He's Got the Whole This Land Is Your Land in His Hands is the first "proper" full-length from long-running Chicago experimenters Joan of Arc since their 2012 self-titled LP. During the five-year gap, they did release Testimonium Songs, an album of music written for a theater project based on the long-form work Testimony by poet Charles Reznikoff. In late 2016, they also toured briefly in celebration of the group's 20th anniversary. Bandleader Tim Kinsella wrote dozens of songs in the interim as well, but chucked them all when the band reconvened, opting instead to build new material out of group improvisation. The resulting He's Got... features the lineup of Kinsella, Jeremy Boyle, Bobby Burg, Theo Katsaounis, and new member and co-lyricist Melina Ausikaitis, who sings lead or co-lead on a few of the tracks. It was recorded live at locations throughout Chicagoland, including an art gallery, a downtown hotel's basketball court, a West Side industrial space, and a friend's Airbnb. The uneven sound environments suit the mercurial set of songs, which seem at least partly motivated by confrontation. After a long album title that plays with a revered Christian spiritual and American protest-folk song, it opens with the lyrics "What the fuck!" Later, Hitler, ISIS, and Phil Collins are not off limits while the record juggles the acerbic, playful, and abstract. Musically, opening track "Smooshed That Cocoon" features emphatic distortion, glitchy Atari-era computer tones, and mechanical beats under a punky half rap ("One heroic act of passivity is finally gonna open that flower"). Catchier but still explicit, "This Must Be the Placenta" muses on life, death, sex, booze, and prison. Elsewhere, the more atmospheric "Grange Hex Stream" repeats "There is no place safe/And everything is perfect" among other absurdities, while "F Is for Fake" takes a narrative approach over banjo, piano, and still more pulsing and glitchy electronics. It's a very "in the moment" kind of album, in terms of some of its lyrical references and its improvisational feel; Kinsella laughs, talks, and is bleeped in the course of the live takes. While it's an understatement to say that Joan of Arc are not for everyone and never have been, He's Got... may alienate even some of Kinsella's more patient and open-eared fans, as it sometimes wanders into a slow ramble over repetitive dissonance. At the same time, its impulsive quality may be irresistible to a punkier sensibility, offering catharsis in its deliberate lack of polish and self-censorship. If it's possible to be refreshing and somewhat tedious at once, this album nails it.
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AllMusic Review by Marcy Donelson