August 31, 2005

Joan of Arc "Presents Guitar Duets"

Joan of Arc reminds me of a child prodigy with no people skills: brilliant in its existence, but utterly frustrating to deal with on a person-to-person label. For fans of Joan of Arc, it's been this way for a while; after all, this is the band that followed up three beautiful albums with The Gap, not only their worst record, but one of the worst records of the last ten years, which they followed with a break-up which they then followed with a new band and an excellent record which then promptly broke up, followed by another band followed by a reunion followed by more excellent records followed by not-so-good records followed by another awesome band....see where this is going?

Be that as it may, the world around Tim Kinsella is always going to be experimental. That's certainly true with their new album, Joan of Arc Presents Guitar Duets. It's not your typical Joan of Arc record, but it's very much a Joan of Arc record, because it's not what you'd expect from them, but because of that, it's exactly what you'd expect from a Joan of Arc record. Here's the story, and it's kinda cool: Kinsella gathered up all of Joan of Arc's guitarists, past and present. He had them write their names on a piece of paper, and after each guitarist drew a name, they then had to compose and record a guitar duet. (Let's not get into the frustration of how they chose to title the songs--opting for pictures of the two guitarists as opposed to actual titles.)

The nice thing about an instrumental Joan of Arc record is that it highlights the band's beautiful side--one that's often lost underneath oblique lyrics and studio wankery. The ten selections found here range from simple John Fahey-style guitar picking ("Song One") to complex, spaced out numbers reminiscent of Brian Eno ("Song Three"). Sometimes, a glimpse of what you might expect from Joan of Arc can be heard ("Song Four" and "Song Eight"), but other moments, like "Song Seven," are grand epics of noise and drone that sound like something you'd expect from Charalambides. But songs don't get more beautiful than "Song Nine"--which is a breathtaking eight-minute epic of ambient guitar--and "Song Ten" closes the album with a quaint, home-spun country guitar-pickin' session that's quite lovely.

Expect the unexpected from Joan of Arc? Par for the course. Expect beautiful records from Joan of Arc? A hit-or-miss affair, but when they hit the nail on the head, the results are amazing. Joan of Arc Presents Guitar Duets is not your typical Joan of Arc record. Thank God for that.

--Joseph Kyle

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