Joan of Arc - Boo! Human Release Date: May 20th, 2008
Record Label: Polyvinyl Records
"Your child to me will just be some so-and-so" may be the most stinging break-up line ever put to verse. Its poignant ferocity ends Joan of Arc's newest album, Boo! Human, with the relationship-resolve we've missed from Tim Kinsella over the past five years, or whenever Staying Alive and Lovelessness marked the band's return from hiatus. His lyrical direction's 180 is certainly a refreshing turnaround from the politically-painted canvass he has collaged in some way in another over the past few years, and an album so deviant welcomes an accompanying musician roster that's certainly larger than previous collaborations. With Kinsella's work on Boo! Human already being championed as some of the best of his career, one has to wonder how he can continue to stand to top a career's accumulation of music that will remain to be seen as some of the most creative and striking and creatively striking of our time. Lyrical themes here find him exhausted with relationships and romance, lost time and energy -- more realized it seems at this point in his life, incited because "the best friend I ever had/was the worst fucking thing to ever happen to me".
The album isn't as reliant on flow as some we've seen, but when it largely is relating to such a tumultuous time in Tim's life, it is proper to filter a variety of emotions in to the sequence of the songs. You'll find the slow/meditative in "Shown and Told" and "Everywhere I Go", the band's signature off-kilter upbeatness in "Laughter Reflected Back" and "A Tell-Tale Penis", and everything in-between on "9/11 2" and "The Surrender #1". The cast of musicians is, again, expansive and rightfully so. Instrumental layers play a large part in the album, such as in creating the Beach Boys-like environment for "Insects Don't Like Bananas" or the jagged rotary (and clearly Lungfish inspired) of "The Surrender #2". Old favorites Sam Zurick and Mike Kinsella ground the rhythm section, with occasional substitutions for Josh Abrams on the upright bass, and maintain the album's expert cadence. Their experience together (yeah, yeah -- we know what bands they've been in) allows for songs like "Laughter Reflected Back" to have such a stunning prowl about curving melodies and rhythmic junctions.
The tail-end of this album, it should be noted, is easily the best of any other album I've had the chance to listen to or will ever have the chance to listen to. "If There Was A Time #1" is quite honestly one of the best songs the band has written to date. It finds Tim's lyrics at their most vulnerable, "I've only one ambition for the night/Finding the most effective means/For giving up on my whole life" while the instrumentation contrastingly finds itself in a upbeat and jangly mood; possibly relaying the idea that Tim finds putting this part of his life to rest is not a completely bad thing -- hope lies with moving on. "The Surrender #1" is the seamless flow from traditional Joan of Arc pop to droney, wayward ambiance -- a meditation, if you will, on the latter songs heavy subject matter. "If There Was A Time #2" also files under as "one of the best songs the band has written". Unlike its similarly named counterpart, this song is the word resolve: "I still have those who know I'm full of shit and love me anyways/And all I get to walk away with is knowing this'll all hit you someday". The accompanying strings are utterly gorgeous, swaying from side to side with the same willpower Tim sings so beautifully. "The Surrender #2" is the test resolve places on our confidence in coming to terms with what happened and "So-And-So", finally, is the song I've been wearing on my sleeve whenever my lips beckon to sing something under my breath in times of quiet reflection. For a close to the album, it'd be only proper for the song to only involve Tim with an acoustic guitar -- and it couldn't have come out any better. The gem of the album, a comfort food after the end of a long week, a final telling of what the heart has been hiding.
Despite my endless applaud for this album, I must admit there were some growing pains. The single, "A Tell-Tale Penis", sums up the bouncier moments of Boo!, but the little nuggets of otherwise took some getting used to. With "9/11 2" being the most immediate to come to mind, it comes without much saying that it's a bump in the road that will stir some feathers. The concept of the song is actually quite genius, but its entrance is a very abrupt subsequent to "Just Pack or Unpack": a violin and viola moan to Kinsella's determined obstruction to both the public-unknowing of 9/11 and the unknowing in the relationship for which the the album is primarily dedicated. As a result the song has been getting the reputation of "unnecessary", along with 26 second electronic interlude "Lying and Cheating Mind". I also found many of the verses scattered about to be too restrictive when it comes to allowing Tim to sing his often lengthy lines without having to clutter words together. It's only minutely apparent towards the beginning of the album, but songs such as "Vine on a Wire" seem almost weighed down by it. It may even be intentional, and again, it's only a small grievance. If I wasn't required to provide criticism I wouldn't even be bringing up it.
"Once we spent our afternoons dancing in our living room/Now she's given in to her most unlit corners too soon"
This album has definitely hit me unexpectedly. The sheer honesty that it shares with you is staggering, the brilliance of each and every turn and take worth listening to again and again. Just one ounce of Kinsella's understanding can toll innumerable nights of reevaluating things. His perspective has shifted to love and betrayal, but it remains to be as insightful as it has always been. Listeners that simply want to be numbed by music and not inspired are confounded by Tim and subsequently have confined him to this realm of difficulty; an image that endlessly frustrates me because I know his art will be realized and missed once he throws in the towel. Boo! Human is, involuntarily, a shot at re-acceptance. Joan of Arc is on the most brutally-human level it has been since its origins were revealed with The Intelligent Design Of... Though it lyrically leaves little room for the listener to relate his or her own scenario to the strictly defined heartbreak, I believe this is Joan of Arc getting on one knee and telling Juliet, up on that balcony, to fuck off. The words sung with such ease here are everything you and I have always wanted to say, but could never find the will to write so eloquently. This is an album you'll come to when you feel betrayed, or misguided, or caught in the casual progression of dealing with loss when you've thought you'd already lost just about everything you could stand to lose. Boo, human. We're never speaking to you again.
Great review, I loved the single they released a while back and I'm a fan of the other project the Kinsella brother are involved with, but I haven't had a chance to check out much of the JOA catalog. This review definitely made me decide to check out this cd, great job!
It's nice to see this album getting some attention. I didn't even know it was out until I saw this. As always, your ability to weave an informative and interesting review blows my mind. Keep it up, man. And now I'm off to give this a listen.