Secretly Canadian RecordsI should know after so many years that Damien Jurado doesn't pen jolly songs. Sure, some of his best character-driven stories are backed with music we classify as upbeat or poppy, but those tunes you tap your foot to tend to be his most grim and heart busting. And on Saint Bartlett, Jurado's ninth full-length release, a record that sounds unlike anything he's created, Jurado still manages to trick the listener into believing he's writing cheery pop songs.
Part of this ruse is a result of Jurado sharing performing duties with Richard Swift. But it's Swift's timely production that renders this something of a milestone for Jurado. Instead of trying to push Jurado's delicate and highly recognizable tenor voice over the hills, Swift manipulates varied instrumentation, space and allows Jurado's whispers and calm singing to develop a sound that approaches loud in the best ways possible. On the album opener, "Cloudy Shoes," it's easy to mistake the early measures as almost heart warming, with Jurado's voice paired with dreamy pop ideals, handclaps, call and response, but when he lays out the album's most definitive line, "funny how we all can change/ if we just try to," there's no mistaking Jurado's following his own advice. On "Kansas City," Swift and Jurado avoid the conveyor belt singer/songwriter syndrome by incorporating the tinkering of glass, hints of disinterested discussions, and delicate feedback all layered behind Jurado's voice making him sound bigger than usual.
Even with Swift helping Jurado's songs move in a different way, Saint Bartlett is incredibly memorable because it never shies away from Jurado delivering the simplest of actions as dramatic and dangerously engaging. If you've struggled to find a starting point in Jurado's discography, Saint Bartlett will gratify the most wandering of ears.