By Phil Scarisbrick
‘It shouldn’t be a surprise to know I was here all along,‘ exclaims Damien Jurado on the opening line of his new album – What’s New, Tomboy? Now, some fifteen long players into his career, the relationship fans have with his music is more than just a fleeting fancy. His neverending search for truth and understanding in a world of uncertainty and imperfection has always found a home in the hearts of those who share that pursuit. After his career best, The Horizon Just Laughed, then the stripped-back brilliance of In The Shape of a Storm last year, he has returned with a record that shares the latter’s earnestness, only fleshed out with a sound palette that exentuates his yearnings.
The opener – Birds Tricked into the Trees – combines a sumptuous bass line with faintly plucked electric guitar to underscore that voice. This single is architypally Jurado in the best possible way – pulling you in, but never quite revealing its full hand, leaving the listener to connect the dots for themselves. Ochoa is one of the more sparsely-arranged songs on the record, with acoustic guitar and Jurado’s age-worn voice carrying the song along a bed of bass and keys before an organ springs to life to lift the chorus.
Fool Maria is a definite highlight, sung in a gravelly mumble that encapsulates the poetic conflict that he is emoting. ‘If I said that I had chose this, I then would be a liar/I am only living sentences that were long before I died here,‘ declares our narrator, as he exhales this lullabilic melody that carries such turmoil. Alice Hyatt underlines how important the rythym section is to this record, as the drums and bass drive this delicate lament, with stops and starts punctuating Jurado’s almost falsetto delivery. Arthur Aware underlines Jurado’s ability to coerce the listener’s attention rather than hammer it home; the song swirls around an elegant array of sounds that are never punchy or precise, but sonically underline the vague affirmations in the lyrics such as ‘I keep all of my prized reflections in glass jars from the coroner/And when I get old I’m looking at myself‘.
Clocking in at under the half hour mark, What’s New, Tomboy? should feel immediate, but barring a couple of songs like Alice Hyatt, it takes time to seep its way into your pysche. Don’t let that put you off though, as it is deserving of all the time it takes inhabit your attention, and when it does it will have a formidable grip that will lock it there for some time. Welcome back old friend, you were here all along.
Secret Meeting score: 83
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