Damien Jurado – On My Way to Absence

Damien Jurado
On My Way to Absence

If Mark Kozelek and Damien Jurado, the indie world’s dueling princes of darkness, were ever to be found in the same room, it’s not hard to imagine them having a “gloom-off.” While the more urban and lithe serve and get served by having dance-offs, Jurado and Kozelek would likely throw their best steely squints, weary grimaces, and breakup stories at each other until late into the night. First one to weep wins.

Seattle’s Damien Jurado’s latest attempt to remain indefinable as a musician, On My Way to Absence, finds him slinging no less gloom than his last effort, the brilliant narrative vignettes of Where Shall You Take Me? Though Jurado has found some comfortable sonic middle ground between 2000’s steadily rocking I Break the Chairs and Where Shall’s gritty Americana, Jurado’s latest set of characteristically shadowy lyrics contain very little of the focused incisiveness that have earned him rather wishful comparisons to everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Nick Drake.

Dubbed an “ode to jealousy” by Jurado himself, On My Way should cease, with a few notable exceptions, such comparisons. For much of the album, instead of the biting mid-American expose of “White Center,” Jurado is in full-on scorned ex-boyfriend mode, a temperament in which all songwriters and would-be scribes should be frugal with the pen lest they write: “You’re far too busy making out / Do you still know my name,” as Jurado does on “Simple Hello.” At various other times he blows out a guy’s window’s “with both eyes closed”(on “Sucker”), then later he’s lamenting that “through your eyes I despise you / there’s not a person that I hate but you” (on “Icicle”).

It’s somewhat troubling to see Jurado abandoning the genre of folk that served him so well on his last album. More unsettling is the simultaneous presence of the mopey indulgence of some of Jurado’s faux-gothic breakup stories and the honed, spare excellence of tracks like “White Center,” “Lottery,” and “Fuel.” Such a disparity in quality does not suggest that Jurado has lost any of his long-held desire to experiment; it suggests that he’s finally found what he’s not good at. Gloom, as it were, happens to be his strength; seemingly confessional gloom isn’t. Gifted enough to convincingly Springsteen-ize (“I was born in this town / My name was taken from here”), Jurado’s one of the rare talents that could stand to suppress his desire to grow.