Ten songs of dark and disturbing genius from Seattle singer-songwriter
Damien Jurado threw a curveball on his last release, I Break Chairs, by strapping on an electric guitar and giving us a Springsteen-like album of blue-collar rock. Most Jurado fans will be delighted to know that on his fifth album (his first since leaving Sub Pop) he has returned to the naked-and-acoustic style of earlier albums like Rehearsals For Departure to give us another LP of “lo-fi dirges about caskets, mental instability and miscellaneous misery”, as his songs were once memorably described.
Where Shall You Take Me? is minimalist in every sense, clocking in at under 32 minutes. Yet despite its brevity, Jurado takes us on a journey and leaves us emotionally sated by its intensity. To look at the clock at the end of the cathartic final track and see that the hands have advanced but half an hour is to be convinced that time really has stood still.
“I’m not an evil man,” he whispers on the mesmerising opener, “Amateur Night”, “I just have a habit I can’t kick”. It’s as ominously debauched as anything on the first Velvets album. Like a collection of Appalachian murder ballads, the gentle, finger-picking acoustics lull you into a false sense of security. Then the terror of his menacing tales strikes. “Abilene” is a story of elopement or abduction?or worse. “Window”, on which Rosie Thomas harmonises, stares into the darkness and has a strong affinity with the work of Will Oldham/Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy. “I Can’t Get Over You” is a tale of such unfathomable sorrow that you fear for his sanity. “Tether”, another deceptively lovely melody, finds him at the end of it, disarmingly rational despite unimagined wounds. The closer, “Bad Dreams”, asks for salvation. But he’s “done so many bad things”, he knows none will be forthcoming.
Not for the faint-hearted, Damien Jurado is a habit which won’t necessarily bring joy to the listener. But once acquired, you will find it hard to kick.