on 20 February 2012
Now a long time since having earned his stripes with the sort of one-man-and-his-guitar stuff and otherwise funereal exercises in dark miserablism that originally caught the ear of hometown powerhouse Sub Pop, Damien Jurado is continuing to grow as an artist with long-term label partner Secretly Canadian.
With rockier forays in his mid-career came deserved comparison with American bastions such as Sparklehorse, Iron & Wine and Elliot Smith. Developing his palette further, more recent work has seen Jurado experimenting with field recordings, broadening his choice of instrumentation, as well as his choice of recording companions, for Maraqopa is Jurado and labelmate Richard Swift's second collaboration - and the pair's rounded arrangments are some of Jurado's brightest to date.
Info dump over, Jurado was never likely to be predictable with such a back catalogue, and, true to form, the focus of Maraqopa shifts fluidly from shuffling, sleepy little lullabies such as "Everyone A Star" to more original creations such as the wood-block-backed bossa nova beat of "This Time Next Year" - ultimately a careful Western pastiche that echoes with desert guitar and Swift's unobtrusive strings.
Other highlights include the unnerving child's choir that repeats back Jurado's lyrics in a way reminscent of The Sleepy Jackson on the listless "Life Away From The Garden", the alternatingly front-then-distant vocal contrast in the gently storytelling title track and the dancing technicolour backdrop given to the slow-plodding "Reel To Reel" by Swift's giddy and eager cast.
The real show-stealer however is the opener "Nothing Is The News". Humbly creaking into life with some high-and-lonesome prairie strumming, the track then impressively contorts into an outdoorsy, free-form guitar-led jam - Jurado taking the opportunity to put forth a disembodied vocal not miles away from that of the iconic Jim Morrison.
The fuller sound of Maraqopa (as well as its predecessor Saint Bartlett) may not be everyone, particularly those devotees to his early minimalism and/or more experimental recordings, yet it finds Jurado in as welcoming and confident a mood a he's yet mustered. Rather than truly peaking and troughing, Jurado has quietly undulated his way through a strong 15-year career and Maraqopa happily continues this enviable trend.
Advised downloads: "Nothing Is The News" and "This Time Next Year".