I honestly never thought I’d say this, but the new Joan of Arc record is totally sweet. Before they had potential of being something good, but they never really hooked me as I hoped they would. Instead, they just teased me. Tim Kinsella and his revolving door of a band were too cerebral, too pretentious. I don’t consider myself dumb by any means, but until now, Joan of Arc were, to me, an art school joke that I didn’t get. Fortunately with their latest, Joan of Arc, Dick Cheney, Mark Twain, that is no longer the case.
Where albums like The Gap and Live in Chicago, 1999 relied too heavily on loose structures and being altogether difficult, Joan places a higher emphasis on pop songwriting. To be sure, there are still plenty of experimental and unusual moments on the album (the free-jazz pop of “Questioning Ben Franklin’s Ghost,” the math-folk of “Apocalypse Politics”). Yet even the more abrasive and bizarre tracks are strangely accessible. Only a handful fit into this category, however, as it seems Tim Kinsella, for once, has embraced the idea of a pretty, or even catchy, song. The band floats through psychedelic pop (“Queasy Lynn”), piano balladry (“Onomatopoeic Animal Fades”), Sea and Cake-like jazz pop (“Gripped by the Lips,” “Fleshy Jeffrey”) and a cleaner, more refined version of the Joan of Arc of old (“A Half-Deaf Girl Named Echo”).
One thing that hasn’t changed with Joan of Arc is Kinsella’s penchant for overtly goofy and ironic song titles and lyrics. Joan of Arc, Dick Cheney, Mark Twain doesn’t disappoint in this department, offering up lines like “I meet so many people I gave up on names but I figured that’s okay cuz I just call everyone ‘man’ anyways” and “The basketball net’s in the barn/The end zone’s in the parking lot.” And the call and response world jam “80’s Dance Parties Most of All” asserts that romantic comedies, internet porn, verse chorus verse, Friendster and grammar are all conspiracy.
There’s still an element of absurdity to Joan of Arc’s music, but now it’s much more palatable. And though it’s still easy to feel like Tim Kinsella is on another planet, at least with Joan of Arc, Dick Cheney, Mark Twain, he’s inviting the listener to check out its landscape. Though Joan of Arc came close to creating good albums in the past, they never quite made it. On this album, however, they’ve gone from OK to amazing. Sweet.
Aloha – Sugar
The Sea and Cake – The Fawn
Olivia Tremor Control – Dusk at Cubist Castle
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.