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January 30, 2003

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Joan of Arc could be considered as one of the most fucked up bands to ever exist. Or, maybe Tim Kinsella should be given credit for being one of the most fucked up people to ever exist - considering he’s recognized as the band’s foundation; the brains, if you will. One listen to any of the band’s earlier five albums will have a puzzling effect on the listener. It’s not that their material is so difficult to take in – it’s more of a “How did these kids throw this together?” And that’s the great thing about Joan of Arc – they’re always pushing to outdo what they’ve done before, to never repeat sounds, and to always be one step ahead of the pack.

After spending two years of on-and-off-recording, with a full band, in an analog studio – that’s right, not one single computer was used – Kinsella and company have produced their most defining effort with So Much Staying Alive and Lovelessness. The likes of Califone, longtime collaborator Sam Zurick (Owls, Cap’n Jazz), and renowned bandmate and brother Mike Kinsella (Owen) helped with the project.

If anything, this disc is comprehensive. It shakes new ground while refining a sound Joan of Arc displayed on previous releases such as their 1997 debut, A Portable Model Of. The structures are much more rock-based and play out much easier than on previous efforts with the stable of guitars, bass and drums. The overall tempo tends to lie on the upbeat, creating an overall pop awareness. Mike Kinsella’s drum beats are as sneaky as ever and the abundance of piano, horns, and bells is enough to make this performance worth every second they spent putting it to tape. Kinsella’s unmistakable, convulsive, off-key, yet by some means attractive vocals overflow the tracks with that sense of vastness and modesty long established by this prolific songwriter - much of the instrumentation does the same. At times the guitar work is incredibly conventional for Joan of Arc and at others it twangs an out-of-tune sense of progressiveness. Lyrically, Kinsella, once again proves that it’s not a matter of what you say, but how you say it. Most of his material does not translate well when simply reading it, therefore when Kinsella jovially spits out his unabashed words, the content can more closely be grasped. Use your imagination.

It would be tough to find a track on So Much Staying Alive and Lovelessness that won’t satisfy even your average Joan of Arc fan, let alone the cult of art rockers that have followed the act’s every move over the last seven years. With all its carefully planned sounds, intriguing melodies, articulate structures and authentic recording this album is not something to simply throw in the collection. It’s something to commemorate as a release that would, in a perfect world, be recognized for what it is – a success.

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