Damien Jurado isn’t the most assertive singer/songwriter exercising his creativity these days. That may account for the fact that after 16 albums, dozens of EPs and other scattered offerings released over the past 20 years, he remains a cult favorite at best. On the other hand, that may also be reason why Jurado has been able to strike such a distinctive chord with those who consider themselves ardent fans. Indeed, he demands his followers lean and listen. The teeming atmospherics, the sheer subtlety of his sound and the tender tones he imparts through his aural imagery give him a sublime presence, and reveal him as a haunting and compelling artist at that.
Jurado’s new album, the descriptively titled The Horizon Just Laughed might be his most expressive outing yet. Ostensively an aural travelogue embossed with soundscapes that capture the magical summer of his 17th year, it conveys echoes of wistful reflection and even hints of unbridled optimism as well. Though the melancholy is still prevalent throughout, he isn’t as reticent when it comes to adding an occasional upbeat rhythm or some elevated emotion to the proceedings. That becomes clear with the samba-like lilt of “Marvin Kaplan,” the surprising spunk of “Florence-Jean” and the otherwise assertive pacing of “Percy Faith” and “Random Fearless,” two tracks that are likely to attract the most immediate attention, especially at the outset.
Even when Jurado does tap into his usual hushed sentiments, he opts for a more orthodox approach, eschewing the found sounds, ambient textures, electronica and more nocturnal musings of earlier albums. While no one will accuse him of deserting his shoegaze stance entirely, he does opt for a more approachable embrace that finds even the most subdued selections building with majesty and momentum. It’s a glorious effect, one that resonates in ways both illuminative and affecting all at the same time.
“Don’t worry, it’s a long, long way down,” Jurado wails — yes wails — on “Random Fearless,” suggesting perhaps that as downcast as he may sometimes appear, he’s still buoyed well beyond the depths of despair. If there’s a lesson to be learned, it’s that there’s always a silver lining, even when the clouds get in the way. Indeed, maybe there’s laughter on the horizon after all.