Album: Damien Jurado – The Monster Who Hated Pennsylvania review

by Philip Moss

Some great songwriters constantly reinvent themselves, while others just keep churning out great songs – and we must file Damien Jurado under the latter

On a record full of rich character voices, Damien Jurado continues to fill his notebooks with empathic musings – ‘Hello from the room where I’m selling my clothes,’ opener, Helena, announces itself. Like a character existing in a bedsit captured by the brushstrokes of Edward Hopper, Jurado’s first person narrator tells that the cynicism of day to day life doesn’t have to crush our dreams and aspirations – ‘The world is a liar, the stars are a must.’

Closest in musical texture to last year’s What’s New, Tomboy?, Jurado’s latest record isn’t stripped back in the traditional folk sense – but the ethos is clear: if the part doesn’t bring colour, then the curtains are closed on it. Tom‘s just one example, as loose drums hang off every syllable of the Seattleite’s rich melody – the words, somehow, feel ever so slightly rushed, but, also somehow, roll out perfectly; Jurado is such a songwriter that his mastery means even the elements that don’t feel quite right still – at least – feel.

Another parallel with Tomboy is the way the record creeps up on you. Perhaps bar Dawn Pretend, very little leaps from the page on initial listens. At just three verses long, and sans a chorus, Minnesota sees Jurado  back at the tenement – slowly closing the focus through his rain soaked, noir lens. Before, on by far the darkest cut here, Johnny Caravella, Jurado’s voice is pushed to cracking point, as distorted guitars sizzle under neon city lights, as he refrains – ‘Just stick around till the light pushes into the darkness.’ 

Just three years on from The Horizon Just Laughed – his thirteenth studio record, and his best to date – the most productive period of his career continues. Album number sixteen, The Monster Who Hated Pennsylvania, is nothing new from Damien Jurado, but why would we want it to be?

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