Damien Jurado says his new album, Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son, is “about a guy who disappears on a search, if you will, for himself and never goes home.” That search comes complete with rolling stones, resurrections, zodiacs, gardens, and a fictional utopia called Maraqopa. If the quest for the self amid rugged terrain and religious- and drug-tinged language is a time-honored American one, Jurado chronicles it guardedly, if not impersonally. Characters are central to Jurado’s evocative songwriting (a glimpse of the album’s tracklisting reveals a preponderance of proper nouns: “Silver Timothy,” “Silver Donna,” “Silver Malcolm,” “Silver Katherine”), but, typical of his spare narratives, they’re all strangers, to Jurado and each other.
Though Juardo asserts that Brothers and Sisters is a sequel to his last album, Maraqopa, it also shares a kinship with 2000’s Postcards and Audio Letters, an experimental EP compiled and edited from audio tapes dug out of trashcans and thrift stores, consisting of extended fragments of answering-machine messages and recorded correspondence between estranged couples. His artistic impulse on Brothers and Sisters, though delicately pursued, is equally voyeuristic, one alienated soul looking at other alienated souls for some possible solution to the problem of the self: “Out there is nowhere and inside is endless,” Jurado sings, backed by handclaps and a synth drone, on “Return to Maraqopa.”
There’s a confusion of plots and identities throughout the album, with just enough detail given to evoke further hidden panels of image and story, augmented in the liner notes by cryptic stage directions (e.g. “After the accident,” “Welcomed at the gate,” and “exit/exit”). There’s also paranoia, the frisson of conspiracy, in the album’s more ominous tracks: oblique references to torture in “Magic Number,” shady men pulling files in “Metallic Cloud,” and a possible alien abduction in “Jericho Road.” The brothers and sisters of the Eternal Son, following their cultish space messiah, are either egregiously deceived or gloriously redeemed, but Jurado’s saintly burnouts bravely maintain their mad belief in figures and powers and plots that can ultimately take over the world.
In “Silver Timothy,” the titular character has a spiritual encounter with a man on a road, cannily echoing the bibilical encounter between Jesus and two disciples on the road to Emmaus: “I was met on the road/By a face I once knew/Shapeless was his frame and his colors were few.” He has a second encounter, this time with his own face, before the track dissolves into a thrumming, psychedelic cacophony. Who is Silver Timothy? Is he a modern day St. Paul, encountering his savior? Or is he, like most of us, just a guy looking for “another fool to follow,” as Jurado sings on “Jericho Road”?
If there’s an occasional fatuity to the nostalgia of the recent folk revival, it’s one that Jurado avoids, partly through the strength of the album’s attentive production, courtesy of the Shins’ Richard Swift. Brothers and Sisters is full of the same lush psychedelia as that band’s Port of Morrow, with Swift’s keyboards and frequent Latin percussion, surrounded by endless nets of reverb, ably supporting Jurado’s layered vocals. The singer’s delivery is more pliant than it’s ever been, moving from the hushed echo-chamber whispers of “Silver Malcolm” to the fuzzed-out shouts of “Jericho Road.” But the real magic is in the melancholy appeal of his daydream, what he calls his “temporary Earth” in “Magic Number,” and the persistent possibility of revelation that Jurado catalogues with grim bravado and wry hope.