Back in the day, I enjoyed a band by the name of Cap'N Jazz. When that band finally splintered apart after only one true release and a whole slew of compilation appearences and singles, the members went their seperate ways and the resulting bands included Promise Ring (who themselves just called the whole thing off recently), Burning Airlines, and Joan Of Arc. Mainly the brainchild of one Tim Kinsella, the group took anything that was experimental about the previous group and seemed to revel in it. They released albums at a highly prolific rate, and sharply divided those who liked the group and didn't.
I was on board with the group for their first couple discs, and really enjoyed the wild dynamics and nearly constant changing of the releases. A touching, heartfelt song would open up into a skronky scream-fest, or a finger-picked guitar would implode on itself as digital effects rained down around everything. As the band trucked on (through different personel changes), the experimentation seemed to get the best of them, though, and instead of keeping some degree of listenability to their tracks, they increasingly seemed to rely on studio trickery and rather pretentious arty statements to mask things. Again, that's just my opinion, but I had to call off following them after awhile, simply because I felt like it was too much work.
After a stint with the fairly straightforward release of The Owls just last year, though, Joan Of Arc is back and they've reconstructed their sound from the ground up. Gone is the seemingly written-on-the-fly studio foolery, and in its place are actual songs played by an actual band, nearly completely devoid of tricks. If I didn't know it, I wouldn't even think it was the same group, but that usual off-kilter croon of Tim Kinsella is there, and the group seems to have gotten a bit of their focus back. Interestingly enough, the album slightly stumbles out of the gates with the somewhat overlong "On A Bedsheet In The Breeze On The Roof." Lyrically, the track is a lovely portrait of a lazy summer evening, and although the instrumentation changes up a fair amount, it doesn't quite sustain itself for the 6-minute plus running time.
The disc gets better from there out, though, and "The Infinite Blessed Yes" moves things forward with one of the most straightforward tracks that the group has ever done before "Perfect Need And Perfect Completion" mixes piano and pedal steel to nice effect while stray notes on a wurlitzer pop into the mix like electronic blips. The track doesn't follow much of a song structure, but the rambling feel fits perfectly with the sparse instruments. "Olivia Lost" moves into almost pop territory (relatively speaking, for the group), as jaunty electric piano mixes with almost wanky electric guitar. It builds to a crescendo, sounding like the soundtrack to an old silent movie, and Kinsella adds his crackly vocals as things build into a lush finale. "Mr. Participation Billy" mixes electric piano and organ, while Kinsella sings a silly tale and bandmate Jamie Robinson adds off-key warbling over the top. The end result is something that sounds like you'd hear eminating from one of the back tents at a carny show, but darn if that's not at least partially a good thing.
If you didn't like Joan Of Arc, this album still might not win you over, but it definitely strays away from the sheer oddness of their last couple releases. For the most part, songs still follow no real traditional structures, but part of the joy in the group has always been wondering where they would take you next (and sometimes wincing at the results). Fortunately, there really aren't any of those moments on this release, and while there are parts where the disc loses a little bit of its focus, the disc manages to stand up pretty well without relying on gimmicks. I'm willing to give anybody a second chance, and it seems that Joan Of Arc have demanded one from me.