Damien Jurado

Visions of Us on the Land

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AllMusic Review by Marcy Donelson

On his 12th studio LP, Visions of Us on the Land, revered songwriter's songwriter Damien Jurado continues a trend of moving incrementally deeper into psychedelic textures since beginning to work with producer Richard Swift three albums ago. Their fourth collaboration evokes a flickering aurora peering through charcoal clouds with its swirl of heavy folk-rock and contemplative psychedelia. That quality is accentuated by Jurado's soft-landing vocals, which due to context recall the Zombies' Colin Blunstone more than ever. The album also marks the third straight entry in an unplanned trilogy that Jurado wrote and delivers in character (following Maraqopa and Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son). With elements of the spiritual and the science fictional, the epic story leaves community behind on Visions. Its 17 songs follow the unnamed protagonist on travels across the U.S. with a female companion, on a quest for meaning ("Why sit around and wait to die?"). A seeming allusion to music of the late '60s, the song title "Mellow Blue Polka Dot" brings with it ghostly effects, insistent guitar strumming, and driving, tribal-sounding drums, along with poetic foreboding: "Stick around/It gets worse/In your shoes/Here's your curse." Later, the circular, echoing "Cinco de Tomorrow" has him willfully, if temporarily, getting left behind, one of several songs with lyrics about anticipating goodbyes. While the album's tone is certainly solemn, the music isn't short on rhythmic hooks ("Walrus" is outright funky) or melodic vitality ("A.M. AM"). The expansive "ONALASKA" uses diverse effects to rally a rattling bassline, varied organ voices, and vocal delay as it maneuvers through time signatures and tempos. Elsewhere, the fragile "Prisms" offers intimate acoustic guitar and a tottering vocal line as Jurado ponders the future, memory, and perception. The album gets sweeter and sparser toward the end, taking on more of a Simon & Garfunkel quality, as on the tender, penultimate "Orphans in the Key of E." The nearly hourlong record's story ends inauspiciously, with the traveler looking back on his life and companion with affection but with an implied past tense. It's an intense and trippy odyssey, one that should make fans old and new appreciative of Jurado's depth while mulling along: "Are we all not lost in song/Feeding back until we're found?"

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