The artwork for Joan of Arc’s latest release Life Like depicts a confused and unfortunate robot haplessly trying to get out of a torrential downpour. Umbrella in hand and a weary demeanor you can imagine him saying to himself, “I knew I should not have taken a shower today, this always happens.” Making his way through the partially drawn streets not sure what challenges await, the artwork reminds me of what I encountered when I first started this album up. There is always an air of uncertainty and trepidation in venturing into unfamiliar and seemingly hostile territory. I half expected a post rock album based on the first seven minutes of “I saw the messed binds of my generation” and then to my surprise there were vocals. This set the tone for the rest of the album – leaving me perplexed and intrigued, I continued on. It all leads up to several questions: Is this album like the negative aspects of the cover art, a seemingly unfinished thrown together mess masquerading as art? Or is this an ambitious no frills musical excursion that takes an experimental approach to minimalism and other interesting musical dynamics? Is Life Like ultimately lifeless or vivacious?
Instincts and gut feelings are useful mechanisms that should be taken into account outside of a Darwinian context. I say that because the first thing that came to my mind when I heard the music was Cap’n’Jazz .Little did I know the reason for this was that the three ex-members Tim, Mike, and Sam formed this band shortly after their former band disbanded. Although Tim is the only original member from Cap’N’Jazz that is still in the band the influence can still really be heard. These guys take a page out of that dirty tried and true playful yet artsy alternative that would be very suitable in the early to mid 90’s. Not to say that these guys are merely copying their former band, rather they are a more eclectic offshoot. What makes Joan of Arc a more stand out band may seem like an insult to Cap fans but bare with me, Joan of Arc is far easier on the ears and the overall musicianship displayed here is more structured around creating complex and dynamic melody.
These guys could scrap the vocals all together and turn into a post rock outfit (although I wouldn’t recommend it that is a saturated field, plus I like the vocals) the way that the instrumental sections progress and build is impressive. The vocals are cool they do not take away from the overall experience and it add a sense of variety to the whole affair. Variety is another thing the album has going for it as it ranges from folksy to post punk and back to post rock with some math-y elements thrown in for good measure. In other words there is plenty to keep the listener busy here. The overall instrumentation is a great mix of eclectic play styles with the syncopated guitar riffs and insomniac drumming that will play in your ears long after you have turned the music off – the keyboard is also excellently played here too. What I find interesting is some songs may have one major riff played over and over and the next song is a math nerd’s wet dream, to say that the album is all over the place is an understatement. But it never feels too chaotic where you feel lost. All in all the band manages to keep you on a designated path with a few meanderings and rest stops along the way. The highlights would have to be “I saw the Messed binds of my Generation,” “Love Life,” “Like Minded,” and “Night Life Style.”
Joan of Arc continues on their strange journey with this latest release. I think it’s a unique quality to get weirder with age (Animal Collective); it’s also refreshing to see that there are still risk takers out there. Out there would be an appropriate adjective to use in this case, as this band leaves no room for debate, the fact is they are strange. So, with all of that said and there was plenty said this album is not only highly recommended I would have to say for me at least it is one of the better efforts of 2011 and will more than likely end up on an end of the year round up.