January 1, 1996
JOAN OF ARC [I]HOW MEMORY WORKS[/I] REVIEW
The Promise Ring and Joan Of Arc, the two bands into which seminal punksters Cap'n Jazz splintered, favor divergent routes to sonic bliss. The Promise Ring's spirited emo-pop has earned it a huge following and larger record sales than Cap'n Jazz ever experienced in its short existence.
But Joan Of Arc's music works in a different realm. Extrapolating Cap'n Jazz's punk pathos into a more restrained but similarly hard-hitting modus operandi, the band fuses widely disparate elements into a tangible show of emotion. Musically, Joan Of Arc references prominent Chicago post-rock bands such as Tortoise and the Sea And Cake. But it's Tim Kinsella's eccentric lyrics and heart-in-hand vocal delivery that propel Joan Of Arc past the often sterile sounds of its Windy City brethren.
How Memory Works, the band's second album, displays perhaps the most creative use of electronics and composition within a rock framework since Analogue's stunning 1996 opus AAD. Like AAD, How Memory Works is woven together by bits of analog synth noise and short songs that never overstay their welcome.
The band makes an emotional impact with varying speed. The faster songs bristle with a romantic, smile-inducing urgency, especially "This Life Cumulative," with its insistent beat, repeated major-key riffs and quizzical lyrics. Kinsella's vocals in "A Name" ebb and flow with stop-start rhythms, morphing into an awesome twin-guitar duel at song's middle. In the new-wave-meets-prog "God Bless America," his brittle intonations crack under the strain of the song's clenched-fist chorus.
Gastr Del Sol is a logical comparison for plaintive tracks such as "To've Had Two Of," with its acoustic guitar-and-vocal intro and gradual introduction of a cello and human voices. And while Kinsella's nonsensical lyrics and unpredictable pitch at times detract from the music's effectiveness, his performance on album closer "A Party Able Model Of" may find the listener with moist eyes.
It's here, via a haunting piano/strings foundation, that the band invokes the myriad of rarely verbalized emotions that get buried under life's daily experiences. "Everyone's quiet when the record ends," indeed. Rarely has such a simple observation resonated so profoundly.
Nude as the News
JONATHAN COHEN | ASSOCIATE EDITOR
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