I was introduced to Joan Of Arc via 2006’s breezy, accoustic masterpiece Everything All At Once. Unfortunately, I let them drop off my radar, and skipped over 2008’s Boo! Human. I don’t know if they eased into Flowers‘ apocalyptic aesthetic with that record, or if this is a sudden leap into the unknown; I do know I like it.
Joan Of Arc’s latest is much more abrasive, much edgier and squeamish than what I’ve come to expect from them. And that’s not a bad thing at all. Joan Of Arc have made the transition from gentle, cooing indie to something with teeth, something aggressive and ebbing, something futuristic and other-worldly, but rooted in rock tradition. Elementally, Flowers is a fire album, where Everything All At Once was air.
“Fogbow” sets the tone with a sterile, electronic groove. “Garden of Cartoon Explanations” is dark and rueful, with a slight piano ticking nefariously underneath stabbing chords, and an ominous chorus that sounds like it was recorded deep in the heart of a conservatory hall. The title track is just fucking weird. The off-kilter rhythms, sudden shifts in tempo, and dissonant instrumentation has to be experienced to know how much Joan Of Arc has changed their game. The jam devolves into the next track, “Fasting”, and oozes into what sounds like a HAL9000 meltdown.
Not to worry, rock traditionalists- Joan Of Arc has not completely abandoned you. Songs like “Life Sentence / Twisted Ladder”, “Delicious Herbal Laxative”. and “Explain Yourselves #2” have this chunky, fiery beat, rolling through tight, proto-prog and 60’s blues riffs. Think Clouds Forming Crowns meets Bitte Orca. There’s this great moment in “Explain Yourselves #1” where the entire bottom just evaporates, and the melody sort of hangs around. The drums kick back in and push the track upwards, creating this sensation of flight that worked so well on Everything All At Once. And the finale, “The Sun Rose”, is simply majestic. It’s pure, profound and unpretentiously sweet.
It would have been easy for Joan Of Arc to just recapture the magic, but they didn’t. I applaud them for going the the hard route, for exploring new musical space, and for making a record I can see myself listening to for years to come.