July 26, 2006
Joan of Arc "The Intelligent Design of Joan of Arc"
Joan of Arc inspires two reactions: overwhelming love and out-and-out hate. Among my friends, these two camps are clearly polarized; they think that Tim Kinsella can do no wrong and is a musical genius, or they think that he's a smug hipster doofus who needs to be slapped for thirty days. Why this reaction? It's because their records inspire such similar feelings of either brilliance or disappointment. Of course, this is strictly Joan of Arc's doing; their releases are uncompromising artistic statements, filled with postmodern lyrics, challenging (and often gorgeous) musicianship, and clever song titles. Sometimes, this method produces brilliance (witness the one-two punch of their debut, A Portable Model Of and its follow up, How Memory Works, their greatest record to date) and sometimes…well, if you ever listened to The Gap, you might be inspired to hate Joan of Arc, too.
But let's get back to the subject at hand. The band is celebrating ten years (though, of course, one might say that it's not really ten years, as they broke up in 2001, only to return two years later) this summer, and to celebrate it, they've released two records, a new album, Everything, All At Once, and The Intelligent Design of Joan of Arc, a collection of vinyl sides and other rare tracks. This is a welcome collection, as perhaps their greatest moments were, surprisingly, NOT on album. Their first two singles, Method & Sentiment and Busy Bus, Sunny Sun, were both slabs of brilliance, and that these two records are finally collected on CD is reason enough to purchase this record. But, surprisingly, some of the other moments collected here are just as strong as those early salvos: their cover of The Promise Ring's "A Picture Postcard" (taken from a split single with Jen Wood) is surprisingly delicate; the two electronic-minded songs from the Japanese version of 2001's swan song How Could Anything So Little Be Any More? are captivating, and their split 12" single with Bundini Brown is a mini-album that was a throwback to their early days and deserves to be less obscure. As with any band that releases a lot of material, there is some lesser material, too, but the high spots found here are enough to distract you from them. The only really big misstep found here comes not in the music, but in the liner notes, they list the seemingly scary "14 Points of Fascism" by "Dr." Laurence Britt, who is a real person, but who is neither a "doctor" nor a political scientist, but whose email is seemingly passed around as fact. (Just because something seems like it might be true does not mean it is.)
You may love 'em, you may hate 'em, but either way, Joan of Arc is a band that always makes challenging, interesting music—and it's a sign of a band's greatness that their more obscure releases can easily better their official ones.
Listen To: You (Single)
Listen To: Trial at Orleans
Label Website: http://www.polyvinylrecords.com