Damien Jurado’s Latest Conjures Worlds

Among the fiery, fuzzy swirl of sounds in “Nothing Is the News,” the song Damien Jurado released last month in advance of his tenth album, it’s hard to tell where the voices come from. Or how many there are. Or if they’re even Jurado’s. It’s a strange turn for a musician known as a troubadour’s troubadour, his small, intimate delivery normally accompanied by the gentlest of acoustic guitarisms.

“Going into the studio, I knew I didn’t wanna make a record that sounded like others I’ve done,” Jurado says. “My days of proving myself are over. But I think my days of surprising people are now beginning.”  

He’s right. With 2010’s St. Bartlett, Jurado shifted gears, collaborating with producer Richard Swift to present a heady, grandly dramatic chamber pop gem. Maraqopa strays even further afield. Says Swift, “The last thing Damien listens to is sad bastards with acoustic guitars.” 

Instead, the gritty studio experimentalism of Jamaican dub is a sonic touchstone. “That’s a huge influence on how I hear and record music,” Swift says; last summer, during three multi-day recording sessions at Swift’s studio outside Eugene, Ore., the pair listened to a lot of King Tubby. As for his artistic approach, Jurado claims an even more unlikely influence: conceptual groups that have established their own worlds, like Pink Floyd, Sun Ra and Shabazz Palaces.  

“Elements of—I hate the word—fantasy are kind of awesome,” Jurado says. “In this day and age, fuck, man, I think it’s healthy. To escape a little bit. I think more records need that.”  

The pair worked with a 16-track tape recorder, Jurado singing and playing guitar, Swift playing bass, keys, guitar, drums and percussion, and utilizing the studio process itself as an instrument. “Nothing Is the News” and the woozy, echo-laden “Reel to Reel” reverb with copious overdubs to intoxicating effect. In contrast, the raw, unadorned “Museum of Flight” and “Working Titles” are first-pass takes of songs written moments before recording. “What you hear is me singing and playing it all the way through for the first time,” Jurado says of the latter. “I’m sitting here in the clothes I slept in, Richard moved the mic in front of me, and we just did it.” 

Jurado celebrates the release of Maraqopa with a concert at the Neptune Theatre on Feb. 17.