It seems like it would be an almost impossible task for a band to walk the fine line between avant-garde experimentation and pop sensibility, but somehow, on most of the new Joan of Arc album Tim Kinsella and company have done it.
While in the past much of Joan of Arc’s material has seemed outlandish and has even been called “fucking around for the sake of fucking around” Kinsella has now found a way to meld pushing the musical envelope with talented song writing.
Now just because Joan of Arc’s new album contains songs that are catchy and don’t need to be studied in order to be appreciated doesn’t mean that they are following normal song structures or penning lyrics that resemble anything on the pop charts. Joan of Arc has never been about following the status quo, they have just found a way to make their own sound a bit more accessible.
On the opening track of the album, “Questioning Ben Franklin’s Ghost,” the band somehow finds a way for jazz piano and an odd time signature to blend seamlessly with a humable melody and up-tempo drumming. On “White and Wrong” the band combines quirky Modest Mouse style guitar lines with an assortment of percussion. Wood blocks, triangles, and slow swirling snare rolls combine with another of Kinsella’s well-written melodies. While on “80’s Dance Parties Most of All” Kinsella lists everything he believes to be a conspiracy over top of Talking Heads-esque percussion and acoustic guitar while ambient noises fire off in the background.
It is on tracks like “The Title Track of this Album,” “Deep Rush,” and “The Cash in and Price” where Kinsella and company fail to mix art and pop. Instead the songs just sound fragmentary or odd as they dabble in strange electronic noises and/or spoken word vocals that make Kid A-era Radiohead sound like mainstream rock. Luckily these side trips into awkward experimentation happen rarely.
This problem can also be found in the lyrics. While Kinsella is able to create some beautifully poetic lines there are other times when, like the music, the lyrics step into the realm of absurdity. Lines like, “I’m onomatopoepic animal faces,” and “I’ve only one question left unanswered by both Sid Vicious and my mother,” are just a bit too strange.
Joan of Arc, Dick Cheney, Mark Twain… may not be a great album as a whole, but it does contain a number of great songs.