Evoking Dick Cheney and Mark Twain in the title and artwork of your album screams high concept, and it's not like Joan of Arc hasn't shunned that kind of indulgence before. (It also elicits humorous notions of the fogyish Cheney settling down in his parlor to give a challenging experimental rock album a good, solid listen. Very Norman Rockwell, no?) But Tim Kinsella and friends have already done the concept angle -- done it to death, as the insular spiky changing rooms of The Gap proved. So where does that leave Joan of Arc, Dick Cheney, Mark Twain? Well, it's an album in love with distinct verbosity, for one. Every song title is an artful arrangement in both text and sound -- "Queasy Lynn," "I Trust a Litter of Kittens Still Keeps the Colosseum." And unlike what passes for concept albums these days (we're looking at you, Coheed & Cambria), Kinsella, Sam Zurick, Nate Kinsella, Bobby Burg, and their host of horn- and keys-playing, voice-lending pals have designed this latest Joan missive as a freestanding torso refreshingly free of meddling tendrils. The title track makes simple voice repetition and processed power-drill noises scarier than watching The Shining's climax on repeat. "Half-Deaf Girl Named Echo" assembles a melody from random hand percussion and the sighs of a cello before tense guitar squiggles start reminding of Chicago's mid-'90s post-rock zenith. A kick drum drops, the guitar shifts to an urgent two-note skip, and all of a sudden the song's a surging epic. "80's Dance Parties Most of All" is an extended PSA that outs cultural items like Friendster, sports, Internet porn, and Galileo as conspiracies; "Apocalypse Politics" features an absolutely beautiful acoustic figure completely at odds with its doomsday-on-Tivo lyrics; and "White and Wrong" is a family crisis in two acts, playing out over detached rhythms and claustrophobic Casios. Joan of Arc does seem to think that the sky has already fallen, and its shrapnel is making our relationships bleed with absurdity. But though their words suggest such weighty topics, the album remains sonically airy. It might get tense, but it's never dense. Joan of Arc, Dick Cheney, Mark Twain has its share of screwy, push-button noise -- "'Still' from Miss Kate's Texture Dictionary" is all squelch, no action. But these passages seem to emphasize the band's cynical cultural view. Only noise will save us, and all of that. The record ends with "The Cash In and Price," which returns to the title track's overlapped voices motif. Aside to Joan of Arc: props to pitting the Nation of Ulysses against those evil-doing multinationals. The hickey underworld lives!
© Johnny Loftus /TiVo