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Damien Jurado and Gathered in Song

On Damien Jurado's first two albums, Waters Ave. S and Rehearsals for Departure, he liberally blended an almost sprightly pop with a masterfully controlled melancholy, resulting in works of great creative tension. For his next record, 2000's Ghost of David, Jurado gave in to the dark side, fashioning a quiet, moody downer of an album that documented the breakdown he suffered during the making of Departure. Informed by the two albums he credits as being his personal favorites (Nick Drake's Bryter Later and Simon & Garfunkel's Bookends), Jurado sank into a similar joyous swamp of gloomy emotion and created one of the great albums of the year in the process.

For his fourth effort, the crashing I Break Chairs, Jurado has assembled an actual band (guitarist Eric Fisher, bassist Josh Golden, and drummer Andy Myers, as Gathered in Song) and offers a look at what might have happened if Drake had lived long enough to plug in and attack his demons with volume. Jurado follows in the grand tradition begun by Bob Mould in Hüsker Dü and emulated to great effect by Eddie Vedder and Art Alexakis in their band personas. Jurado's intensely personal narrative style meshes well with his more forceful band presentation, especially on the post-punk Neil Youngian "Paperwings" and "Dancing" and the gentle despair of "Air Show Disaster" and "Like Titanic."

Coupled with sympathetic engineering from Pedro the Lion's Dave Bazan, Damien Jurado has made an album that perfectly reconciles his two disparate creative energies into a more unified sonic viewpoint without tampering with the brilliant songwriting that has distinguished his work to date. I Break Chairs is where Jurado chooses to set up his musical camp today; in all likelihood, he'll soon move on to something different but equally satisfying.

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Brian Baker

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