Joan of Arc
Presents Guitar Duets
reating a guitar sound is, metaphorically, just like writing and publishing a book. The writer’s style takes years to hone but eventually he or she becomes a master at his or her craft even with bumps of writer’s block occasionally in the road. But, the writer’s style can also become reified so that what was once an original and personal style becomes a concrete, meaningless form; a template. To bring this back to music, take U2 as a classic example of a popular band having a very distinct guitar sound. Yet, as the years went (and continue to go by), U2’s guitar sound never really matured and the band simply stuck with a formulaic pattern, often attempting to reinvent themselves only in such a fashion that they have now become the romance novel paperback of rock. U2, essentially, wrote the same song so many times that their once interesting guitar sound lost its substance and became nothing more than hollow nostalgia.
On the other hand you have a band like Joan of Arc who have, over the years, been writing new and consistently distinct novels (even under a number of pseudonyms and spin-offs) for nearly a decade. While not all have been amazing successes, Tim Kinsella and his rotating cast of members have always challenged themselves and their listeners, with their original and personal sound always in tow, and never pandered to the lowest common denominator.
Presents Guitar Duets follows in this tradition. The concept is such: Kinsella got every member (past and present) who ever played guitar in Joan of Arc to release an album of guitar duets. The album features ten musicians: Sam Zurick, Matt Clark, Tim Kinsella, Tim Rutili, Nate Kinsella, Mike Kinsella, Bobby Burg, Jeremy Boyle, Todd Mattei and Ben Vida. The first thing that stands out about this list is the presence of Jeremy Boyle, an original member who hasn’t been with the band for years. He himself released an equally far-ranging (but more coherent) concept album in 1999 called Songs From The Guitar Solos where he abstracted snippets of famous guitar solos by Kiss, Van Halen, Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, and Jimi Hendrix and then made a song out of each. Boyle has always been known as, in the words of Lauren Kessinger, Joan of Arc’s “blip blip guy” and was instrumental in pushing the band’s sound forward for years.
The Joan of Arc guitar sound is as hard to describe as it is to play. Seeing them live it can at times even be painful to watch. Jangly and often ear-piercing, it often sounds like something from another planet, though not in the transcendental or psychedelic sense (more in the literal “how in the hell did they come up with that?” sense). For this reason, they have had trouble over the years reproducing a strong stage show. Presents Guitar Duets is not like a Greatest Hits album of Joan of Arc guitar sound though, nor is it a record in the conventional sense. It is ten tracks with ten guitarists each taking turns with each other to produce a song using only guitar and guitar-related effects. Certain tracks have a very distinct Joan of Arc quality to them like, not surprisingly, Tim and Mike Kinsella’s song. Other songs, like Jeremy Boyle and Tim Rutili’s have a dreamy droned-out vibe with lots of effects added to make the most spectacular (and longest) duet on the record. Finally, other duets are more rhythmically based and/or more simplistic like the final song by Mike Kinsella and Ben Vida.
Overall this is a wonderful concept, especially for hardcore Joan of Arc fans or simply for guitar fans. Yet, some will find this album to be semi-masturbatorial—which wouldn’t be the first time the incestuous and ever-growing family that is Joan of Arc would have been charged with such an accusation. It’s rather funny in fact, that through the years Joan of Arc have rarely been judged by their cover but always for their content but when critics judge the content, in Joan of Arc’s case, they really are judging the cover by often accusing them of pretension, among other things.
The fact of the matter is Tim Kinsella and all the boys and girls he has gathered over the years are some of the best writers around, both lyrically and sonically, and if the boys want to get back together, play with their guitars and create a new novel then so be it. Judge it by its cover, borrow it from the library, or buy it from your local independent bookshop. But what is most important is that in an age where more and more bands from the majors down to the independents are settling for formula, Joan of Arc continue to throw themselves over the edge (pun totally intended) of the so-called artistic cliff and people either hate it or love it. That’s how it was when the band started, how it is now and probably how it always will be. The end.
Reviewed by: Josh Honn
Reviewed on: 2006-01-03
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