Thursday, August 8, 2013

Album Review: Joan of Arc - Testimonium Songs

Album Rating: C+
Tim Kinsella's Joan of Arc has always been an extravagant project. With over a dozen albums under his belt, and an ever-rotating lineup of players, he continues to release at least one new album each year. This is not mentioning the myriad of other groups he is a part of also. Joan of Arc being his staple though, gets the most output. Their latest, Testimonium Songs, is an accompaniment to a live theater performance aptly titled Testimonium, performed by Every House Has a Door. Kinsella's tendency for poetry and art is displayed fervently on Testimonium Songs, with its companion theater performance consisting of dance, acting, and the music. It may sound like a recipe for a definitive Joan of Arc record, but Kinsella placed his music in the background of the performance and therefore ends up being a somewhat hollow experience.

Testimonium consists of poetic transcripts of courtroom witnesses and testimonies, originally written by Charles Reznikoff. The poet, who is responsible for the coining of the term Objectivism, wrote such pieces about court cases of workplace negligence during the early 20th century. The live performance of Testimonium, while being an essential piece to the puzzle, makes the corresponding album falter without its visuals.

The six song collection is best absorbed as a whole, with its lengthy middle-section comprising most of the album's meat. Joan of Arc's typical angular indie rock is present as usual, but the complexities and musicianship of older releases is absent. While Joan of Arc have released a few experimental albums since their last proper full-length, none have featured ex-Cap'n Jazz/Owls guitarist Victor Villarreal since 2011's Life Like. Since then, the band has felt half-full, and it has been slightly crippled without his playing.  Testimonium Songs only features the three core members of JOA. Tim Kinsella on guitar and vocals, Bobby Burg on bass, and Theo Katsaounis on drums. A select few guest musicians are present, but don't bring out much. Kinsella's vocals are typical in his styling, and the instrumentation is loose and flowing. It feels very natural to listen to, which is always a plus with Joan of Arc compositions.

It may be a decent filler to hold fans over until the next true Joan of Arc, but Testimonium Songs will only please the die-hard of Kinsella fandom.

You can purchase the limited vinyl, CD, and tape on Polyvinyl's website.

Track list:

1. Amelia
2. I'd Expect Babies Should Fly, If Not At Least Float
3. Mosaic of Bolts
4. Stephan's Song
5. The Bird's Nest Wrapped Around the Security Camera
6. Jury Duty

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