Wim Wenders’ film Paris, Texas comes to mind when listening to Damien Jurado’s Vision of Us on the Land. The Seattle-based indie rock artist cannot help but pull in the desert when he plays. Nearly everything about his presence is warm and smelling of the liquor from an out of place bar. Instead of looking for the place that could be called his inception point, Jurado goes far and wide reflecting on a particular person he loves, much like Harry Dean Stanton’s character halfway into Wenders’ flick. The musician would go back to see the woman, but his album settles on the creation of landscapes more than its supposed narrative. Whether on highways, parking lots, or the long dirt road, Jurado is a man whose 17-track journey is one of atmosphere.
There is no large pretension within Visions that becomes conspicuous. Jurado’s guitar work is simple. Yet listeners do not focus on what chord he plays or how warm his voice can be, although that does help generate the feeling in his songs. We admire how his efforts allow us to actually sit right by him, riding along shotgun. He is always in motion, and like his album artwork suggests, he does see many things. Nothing is extraterrestrial, but there is the hint of the larger than life in the little things. The man does not need crafty analogues or metaphors. He does more than well in his ability to generate a reality.
Intro track “November 20” pulses with a wild west guitar rhythm that would find itself within most of Visions. His talk of gold rushes, along with rumbling drums and a colourful production, settles his audience in the adventure. “Mellow Blue Polka Dot” finds its way through canyons, while “QACHINA” serves to bring the sounds of Mexico into the forefront. Yet he manages to make the land feel American in how rural it can sound. His motions make him like Sufjan Stevens if he had lived in the times of bows and arrows and flintlock pistols. Even Bruce Springsteen’s influence manages to come in on “Sam and Davy,” a track that tramples with its sound.
When Jurado is warm and feels like he is settled by a campfire, he still cannot help but sense that his mind is racing. Such is the case in the fingerpicked “Prisms” or the beautiful closer “Kola.” Production-heavy tracks become those that dash warmth for the feeling of being small in tiny towns. “ONALASKA” makes Jurado out like the Bon Iver of Mexican land, while “TAQOMA”‘s urgency is paired with its flurry of instrumentation. He might be searching for a bond in the world, but a welcome, yet hazy sound makes it feel like a fool’s errand. The man can also pump rock guitar and distortion to fuel the sensation of being diminutive (“Walrus,” “Cinco de Tomorrow”). Even “Queen Anne,” a track that reeks of filler is eye-opening for its use of Celtic rhythms in its talk of time. Jurado can perform religious hymns if he wished.
“Exit 353” was the tune that initially grappled me to listen to Visions. Jurado managed to have an acoustic guitar pierce through layers of production while still keeping the gallant sound of strings. In the haze of distortion, the man brings the sensation of speeding through the highway with the lead that could make or break him. When he sings “I was alone then,” he generates so much. I imagine a western showdown. I think of a season finale. I smell the coffee cup that shattered after a family fight. Jurado does for the ears what famous painters do to sight. He crafts an atmosphere and allows us to sense what is there. And much like Stanton’s character, he is gone before you know it.
Dustin Ragucos is a writer of things fictional, poetic, and musical. His main loves include Death Grips and Indie music. Dustin’s blog is host to a weekly blurb about albums old and new.