Sound — 7
Joan of Arc is a predominately indie band known for the odd writing processes it uses. They once recorded an improvised album in two days and another time they wrote a live soundtrack for a movie. This time, the writing process was much more specific and purposeful (supposedly). Over a three-year period, the band composed this album with a Chicago theater troupe. Despite the fact that this album was meticulously written over three years, it still feels like an improvised, jam album. The sections don't match up that well in some of the songs and they all felt like they were jammed up while recording the album. I would assume that since these sections were meticulously written, the sections are supposed to show a very deliberate effect/feel. It's not getting across to me. It honestly seems like amateurs wrote the album, all the way from the music to the track titles. What I mean by that is that the songs are too cute for the most part. "Stephen's Song" is a perfect example of what I'm talking about. Clocking in at just less than one minute, it is entirely a capella and the lyrics and melodies are cute, too cute, almost like it was meant to be a joke. The album does have its highlights. My favorite song is "Mosaic of Bolts" for the fun verse vocal melody and because of the yelled chorus. In my opinion, I think that Tim Kinsella should use that technique more often because it gives him an aura of energy, organization, and purpose. The best overall song is the album's opener "Amelia." It feels laid back with an acoustic guitar, two singers, and not much else. It feels like the type of music I would listen too when lying in the grass at a park and stare up at the clouds. This quality, in my mind, makes this song somewhat folksy and psychedelic rather than just indie. It isn't a radical song like many of the others, but it is very pleasant to listen too. The fourteen-minute mainstay of the album "The Bird's Nest Wrapped Around the Security Camera" is quite odd. This is primarily the song that made me say that the sections on songs don't match. I believe that is meant to be listened to carefully, but the listener will honestly not want to put that type of effort into it considering that it's very odd, yet not very special. To put it more plainly, Joan of Arc doesn't make this song easy to understand. And since this one song makes up about 41% of the whole album, this song really doesn't help the likeability of the rest of them. The closer of the album, "Jury Duty" is notable because it is another a capella performance like "Stephen's Song." In my mind, it is a much better song than "Stephen's Song" and it is a fun, pleasant song to end the album.
Lyrics — 5
If there's one thing that Joan of Arc does really well on this album is that it makes clear at any given point if the music is more important than the vocals or vice-versa. For example, in "Amelia," the acoustic guitar plays a simple chord progression throughout the song, leaving room for the vocal melodies to make themselves known and become the dominant part of the song. Tim Kinsella's melodies are much better than his delivery, which also seems too cute and amateurish. Still, during "Amelia," this type of delivery makes the song very relaxing and pleasant. Picture the image I laid out before about sitting in a park and staring up at the clouds. Lyrically, some of the songs are whimsical while others attempt to be serious. However, they are prevented from doing so because of the whimsical nature of Kinsella's delivery, which is always present except during the yelled part of "Mosaic of Bolts." Here's an example of the childish lyrics from "Stephen's Song": "In one minute see the volume, coming down the tracks, baffling your mind. Take one second, take one hundredth, take one thousandth of that minute, Baffling the mind and the baffling diminishes to simplicity. This is the principle which presides over all attempts at observation, that I have elsewhere called the Law of Convergence to Simplicity by Diminution of Extent." While these lyrics may not sound that childish when written down and read on a screen, the melody and the delivery that Kinsella chooses make it so. Here's an example of somewhat serious lyrics, taken from "Jury Duty": "This reckless nation is really no big deal. Its anthems and biases, ???, and swindling systematize... I hope I have adequately demonstrated my emptiness. I hope you have evidence enough to numerate your rumination... Afflict the mirror upside down. I'm giving it my all, but still see the same thing. It's bolted to the wall, spins in place." These lyrics are a bit more serious than those in "Stephen's Song" are, yet they sound almost as childish when heard on the album. For serious lyrics with a serious delivery, I would recommend listening to "Mosaic of Bolts." I'm sorry, but my ear isn't good enough to understand the lyrics in the good part of that song.
Overall Impression — 6
Overall, this album is hard to comprehend, understand, and assess. It is progressive in the sense is that it utilizes concepts that haven't really been tried before. Theoretically, the album would sound better live because it was written for/with a theater troupe. This album doesn't seem like a big deal to me. After listening to it once, it doesn't encourage me to listen to it again. The album isn't bad for the most part. It just isn't good. As to the complexity of the music, I honestly got so bored that I didn't want to try (that doesn't mean that I lacked effort in reviewing it). My favorite song was "Mosaic of Bolts" and my least favorite was "Stephen's Song," which I still think was a joke to begin with. I'm predicting that this album will quickly fall into the large musical abyss, only to be performed for a couple of niche followers.