Those who’ve come to know Damien Jurado since earlier in his career might start listening to Caught in the Trees and dismiss it as Jurado’s sell-out album. In other words, I almost dismissed Caught in the Trees as Jurado succumbing to the wiles of pop music like so many musicians before him. I remembered his previous album, And Now That I’m In Your Shadow, as, by far, the most somber bell toll I’d ever listened to intently. Against the engrossing silence, you could hear his struggle on the album, making the most effort attempt to cover up the bleak and empty quietness with a guitar and a single, solitary voice. Caught in the Trees, on the other hand comes out of the gate with a full band, maracas and backing vocals obliterating the silence, not even respecting it. I wondered how such a shocking transformation could be made so easily, but then stoically concluded that it was probably business, and went on doing my sit-ups, push-ups. I was let down, I suppose, but knowing me, I wouldn’t give the album a bad review. No, I thought, let’s keep listening. There might be something else beside the music I can talk about.
The second track was noticeably lower key than “Gillian Was a Horse,” but not enough to erase the pop residuum. This trend continued into the next couple of songs, and while the tunes may not have been solemn or pathetic, some relatively rocky, behind the music lay some rather disturbing lyrics. “We must remove the skin / And burn it all for fuel,” and “You look like / You could use a rest / You look like / You’d be better dead.” They rang with a jarring desperation. In the middle of what had been a fairly pop-folk album, lines like those came and reminded me that even pop can be a wasteland. The soundscape needn’t be barren for a shade of sadness to dim its way through the light. After the track “Sorry is for You,” the album had, for the most part, reverted back the the Jurado I’d become accustomed to. A dark cello subdued the vocals which hadn’t the power themselves to ignore the troubles that were ever present. “Paper Kite,” in particular, exemplifies this anquished mood. Even though the vocals rise high in the track, they are not beyond their own distress.
The promo edition of Caught in the Trees has, at the end of it, a radio edit of “Gillian Was a Horse.” It is no different from the album version, other than a few ends of the word “bullshit” censored out of the song, and it served me well, I suppose. It gave me time to reflect upon the track I’d taken as trivial. I remembered the bursts of desperation within the lyrics of “Caskets” and “Coats of Ice.” I thought then that the song could be just as wretched and plaintive as the songs of the former Jurado, but that the subject matter of this particular song didn’t lend itself to the melancholy of the silent spaces between the strings on a guitar. The people in “Gillian Was a Horse” can’t afford the luxury of silence. Their lives don’t give them the chance to absorb a somber moment or let the sadness be. There is always something there to disturb, the simplest jangle of piano keys or a rollicking rhythm held somewhere in the background of their lives. They never get a chance to respect the silence, and that is what their sadness is. That is their tragedy.