by Jason Fuller
Chicagos Joan of Arc has come a long way from the emo-punk days of its members former band, Capn Jazz. While other past Capn Jazz-ers continue to mine teen emotions in the Promise Ring, Tim Kinsella and the rest of JOA seem bent on joining the inner circle of Chicagos post-rock elite. Joan of Arc seems to come off as upstart kid brother to the more well-established and accomplished likes of Gastr Del Sol, Tortoise and June of 44. Infected with other peoples ideas and some high-minded goals of its own, JOAs gone into the studio to fulfill its ambitions and perform its initiation rites.
The bands third album, Live in Chicago,1999, isnt a live album at all, but rather a high-concept studio experiment. The group has been whittled down from a five-piece to a trio of guitar, bass and keyboards. This stripped-down sound still relies heavily on electronic elements, drum loops and more than a handful of contributors. But Kinsella is still the mastermind here.
Based mainly in acoustic guitar work and the strange, grad-school-wordplay lyrics of Kinsellas cracking, warbled vocals, Live ... sets guitar lines quietly adrift to repeat, change gently and return inward upon themselves softly. Slow, rolling, almost invisible song structures and subliminal electronic highlights add to the late-night lost effects of nowhere to go and nothing to prove.
Live in Chicago, 1999 works due to its singular theme that gets varied over and over: Restraint, quiet and introspection with all the bells and whistles gone and the lights off. The mind and the music are free to wander and wonder. The albums only shortcoming may be that its stretched a little thin at points, and one may wonder if Joan of Arc is perpetuating a fraud in the name of art or running low on ideas.
The result has to be questioned, particularly when one song, "Im certainly not pleased with my options," isnt a song at all, but rather a statement on the song lurking in Kinsellas head and how great it would be if only he could get it out. It also leads to questioning if their cover of Scott Walkers "Thanks for Chicago, Mr. Jones" was chosen solely for its obscurity. But theres also a hint of playfulness in the albums art direction which turns Godards Weekend into a high school play featuring Joan of Arc and friends.
These guys may be too smart for their own good, but intellectual in-jokes and second guesses aside, Joan of Arc makes interesting music and provides some heady entertainment.