It's not like Damien Jurado wasn't already pretty damn fine before he began his collaborations with Richard Swift, let's be perfectly honest. 2005's On My Way to Absence is my favourite Jurado record, a brilliant, sparse country record - with occasional bursts of rock revealing his indie band roots - released 8 years and 6 albums into his career and still five years before his first collaboration with Swift on 2010's Saint Bartlett. Yet something happened to Jurado when genius producer and sometime writer of excellent pop songs Swift came along: there was an added confidence and swagger to his music, a willingness to experiment resulting in dipping his toe into genres like psychedelia, funk, baroque 60s pop... and honing the stuff he already did so well: the folk, the country, the rock. Maraqopa followed a similar pattern with the experimentation in styles, and came close to being his best work to date - working brilliantly as a whole despite the collection of styles. Jurado and Swift could be soul mates, finding a happy home together at the latter's National Freedom studios in Oregon, one state down the coast from Jurado's home state of Washington.
Album number eleven for Jurado is Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son, a record about a man who never returns from a quest to find himself, one that's apparently influenced heavily by dub and reggae. But it's not a reggae album as such, more that Brothers is an album willing to investigate a sound, delve deep into it and be able to stretch out without worrying about being contained by structures and rules. While the previous two Swift-helmed records experimented with varying styles, Brothers plays around more with just one or two feelings and becomes Jurado's richest work to date as a result.
Opening with 'Magic Number', the immediate thing to notice is how Jurado's intimate croon or whisper of a voice sounds huge against the sumptuous instrumentation; he's not singing with any more force, or any louder... but he's learned to harness that soft voice thanks to Swift. So as the Spectoresque drums boom and orchestration swirls in the background, the double/triple tracked Jurado remains very much to the fore. Lead single 'Silver Timothy' (the word "silver" is used on a number of song titles here) is as laid-back and groovy as Damien has ever sounded; it's all Latin rhythms and Tropicalia, underpinned by burbling electronics and a carefree abandon that makes the track sound like it was a total blast to record. 'Return to Maraqopa' hits another groove, but this is a slowed-down acoustic strum with handclap percussion as Jurado cries "are you a signal? / Where is your station?," confirming the questing nature of the record not just in the lyrics but the song title which takes us back to his previous record.
The Jurado of old still comes through on some tracks; 'Metallic Cloud' is a gorgeous ballad of piano and guitar that's very much Laurel Canyon territory, 'Silver Malcolm' is as sweetly-simple as he gets these days with Swift manipulating the vocal so it sounds like Jurado is singing from space as strings swoon in the background and electronic blips keep time, while 'Silver Katherine' and 'Silver Joy' are classic countrified Jurado, beautiful in their simplicity.
Those tracks are what you might expect from Damien Jurado though, so the best and most exciting moments come when he does something unexpected: 'Silver Donna' is six-minutes of funk and dub exploration, all elastic rhythms and the sound of Jurado and Swift completely letting go and seeing where the mood takes them. And final track 'Suns in Our Mind' is as uplifting a pop song as Jurado has ever written, perhaps pointing to where this duo might head next.
There's really nothing to criticise on Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son; it's Damien Jurado's strongest album to date and, aye, I know it's only January but if there's any justice this is a record that we'll still be talking about when it comes to compiling those end of year lists.