Joan of Arc - 1984 - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Joan of Arc - 1984

by Brian Thompson Rating:5 Release Date:2018-06-01
Joan of Arc - 1984
Joan of Arc - 1984

Over the past two decades, the career of Joan of Arc seems bent on shaking up the formula and distancing themselves from the tone of any previous work. With the band’s latest album, 1984, founder Tim Kinsella moves even further away from the spotlight, relinquishing creative control to vocalist/guitarist Melina Ausikaitis. This decision has maintained the band’s chosen trajectory away from mainstream commercial appeal. With their contrarian schtick, it’s difficult to know where the line is drawn between joke and sincerity. While they continue to test the limits of their established sound, they often feeling like a gag band from a Portlandia sketch in the process.

1984 tells a story, but it’s one that continuously gets distracted by its own rambling, drunken tangents. Beginning with “Tiny Baby,” the band doesn’t waste any time before revelling in the strangeness, mistaking it for deeper substance. With the frenzied yodel of “Vertigo,” they continue to showcase stream of consciousness lyrics that feel effortless in entirely the wrong way. The album gradually becomes more palatable as it transitions into its lead single, “Punk Kid,” a track that feels comparatively inspired, mainly because it contains a traditional structure, rhyming lyrics, and a consistent melody, differentiating it from the chaos surrounding it as the band’s stab at radio play.

However, the listener is tossed back into the manic, shapeless void with “Maine Guy,” as strained vocals are, once again, layered on top of seemingly random sound loops. “People Pleaser” takes the entropy even one step further, with the screeching bellow of a horror movie score. So, it comes as a bit of a shocker when we happen upon the soothing refrain of the sultry ballad “Psy-fi / Fantasy.” While it still demonstrates the band’s affinity for the bizarre, it is steeped in a calming chime, a brief respite from the storm.

Pulling the rug out from under the audience, the track bleeds into sister song “Truck,” stripping away the cozy accessibility of its twin and demonstrating the hidden eeriness always lurking beneath the surface of even their most seemingly innocuous music. In its final act, however, the record seems to have had its fill of experimentalism. After its acapella beginning, penultimate tune “Vermont Girl” blossoms into a straightforward 90s alt rock anthem. To close out the narrative, “Forever Jung” pays tribute to the band’s previous efforts, as wordless chanting is played over silky psychedelia.

Perhaps 1984 is destined to become regarded as an avant-garde masterpiece in the vein of Trout Mask Replica or Swordfishtrombones, but today, it simply feels disjointed and incomplete. Filled with jarring contrasts, the album seems to be drifting aimlessly, leaving no idea unattempted and hoping that listeners latch onto even a small portion of their output along the way. There are some affecting turns on the record, but they often drown in the sea of disfunction. This is strange for the sake of being strange, which isn’t nearly as clever as Joan of Arc would have us all believe.

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