fri 05/06/2020

Album: Damien Jurado - What's New, Tomboy? | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Damien Jurado - What's New, Tomboy?

Album: Damien Jurado - What's New, Tomboy?

Prolific US singer-songwriter continues on his own very individual path

The lights are on and someone's definitely home

He's only in his mid-20s, but this is Seattle singer-songwriter Damien Jurado’s 15th album. Veering away from a predictable path, his career is dotted with sonic experimentalism alongside a tendency to try abstract lyrical forms. He also appears on one of the most beautiful songs of this century, Moby’s haunted chorale, “Almost Home”. This time round, however, having disposed, the PR sheet tells us, of most of his possessions, like a zen sage, he gives us a relatively straightforward set.

Jurado’s voice is a fragile instrument. He can do that whole vulnerable falsetto thing, but he prefers to underplay rather than hamming it up like so many of his peers. The songs are warm and simple in construction, although not the words. The music is grounded in strummed acoustic guitar, and forefronted bass, playing off against a cuddly organ. A cheap drum machine pops up now and then, notably on “When You Were Few”, but reference points run the gamut from Memphis southern soul to, on the final song, “Frankie”, a hint of Nirvana’s famed MTV Unplugged set.

Amongst this easy-on the ear backdrop Jurado’s lyrics twist and turn, intriguing and holding the attention, never obvious, wearing a literate bent. As ethereal effects swoop around on “Arthur Aware”, he admonishes, “Hey, that’s no way to treat a man – seems so obscene and, by all accounts, intrusive”. It’s conversational but, like a particularly opaque Raymond Carver short story, the themes are intimated rather than hammered home. On “Fool Maria”, for instance, the lyrics are wonderfully poetic, but also mumbled and jumbled.

If there’s a critique, it’s that after three listens, only a small percentage of the songs (notably "Alice Hyatt"), have an earworm quality. Which is to say that nothing is that immediate. But What’s New, Tomboy? is as much about mood, about the easy musical sunlight emanating from its quiet enigma, and many will find much to explore in its unforced lack of adornment.

Below: Watch the video for "Alice Hyatt" by Damien Jurado

He can do that whole vulnerable falsetto thing, but he prefers to underplay rather than hamming it up like so many of his peers

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Share this article

Comments

Jurado is definitely not in his mid 20’s.

Add comment

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters