For more than two decades, Damien Jurado has penned venerable, character driven vignettes. His voice, rarely in a shout, has coated his words well, despite being regulated to a group of underrated songwriters while reflecting the pinnacle of a songsmith. Jurado’s newest, The Horizon Just Laughed, may not bring in droves of new fans, but for those who have followed Jurado for any length of time, Horizon possesses all the building blocks of a masterpiece.
In a recent interview, Jurado stamped Horizon as holding “good-bye songs”. And while he has seamlessly plastered ‘sad’ and ‘good-bye’ on many of his most known tunes, the production and tracking order on Horizon feel like a love note, underscoring this satchel of work with the continuous thread, ‘you mattered’.
Jurado’s everyday imagery (trains, airports, phone calls) suggests his departing angle but specifics show relocating as fact. Opener “Allocate” speeds over the line, “once we were lost and we never came back.” Follow up, “Dear Thomas Wolfe” is not only a strong suggestion to the famed writer’s classic line, ‘you can’t go home again’, but Jurado even comments and references it point blank.
Horizon also stares and steers deeper into Jurado. “Over Rainbows and Rainier” folds with Jurado singing, “I forgot I was human,” which is forcefully followed by a lingering pause. Later, in the warm samba-fused “Marvin Kaplan,” Jurado achingly sings “someone to notice me” and album ender, “Random Fearless” coyly shares, “changed his name to forget himself.” These stark lines veer autobiographical, brushing shoulders with every hurt and known joy.
The songs on Horizon own a tender quality, punctuated by a nod to orchestral pop of the early 60’s. Jurado, a deeply intentional listener, showcases his love affair with soft ballads unworn from modern streaming circles. “Percy Faith” uses a pastoral piano backdrop while insightful quotes and wry words waterfall. “Allocate” leaks a hypnotic balance of mournful strings, crisp ride cymbal, and prominent bass. “Dear Thomas Wolfe” bathes in a slow dance with the strings mimicking Jurado’s dazzling, foldable melody. The tempo steady “The Last Great Washington State” gorgeously aches. Background ‘oohs’ blur into Jurado’s stream of consciousness trickle as he emphatically calls out “I notice the exit signs pointing the way out.”
After more than a dozen great to brilliant albums, Jurado effortlessly notches the wood with another grand statement. Ponder the achievement. Damien Jurado earned his keep long ago. He’s part of a small list of songwriters in their third decade making powerful art and with Horizon’s sound and lyrical architecture, climbing in familiar yet clean-slated ways, the view is revelatory and confirming. We are (still) in awe.