The Horizon Just Laughed by Damien Jurado
Now we’re getting to the point in every Top 31 where I start to doubt myself, where I start to question “is this album truly better than this other album?”, and where I have trouble coming to terms and being settled with where I place each album from here on out. Today, Damien Jurado’s amazing album The Horizon Just Laughed is #5. But tomorrow, I’ll want to put it at #2. I have to put a stake in the ground somewhere, so I guess this is it.
I’ve talked about Damien Jurado many times in the past ten years. He’s had a phenomenal run of albums, and a huge impact on my life. His three albums prior to this new one have all been in the best albums of the year each year that they were released (#2 in 2016, #0 in 2014, and #5 in 2012). No other artist has been featured so prominently in the Top 31. I love the man. So much so, my wife and I even consummated our marriage (on the dance floor — get your mind out of the gutter) by making “Kola” from Visions of Us On the Land the soundtrack to our first dance together.
Jurado turns feelings into music like no other. He grabs hold of your heart and squeezes it hard, right up to but never surpassing the edge of no return. Unlike the trio of albums he produced with Richard Swift throughout the 2010s, this new album is a self-produced triumph of lyric and sound that chronicles Jurado’s abandonment of his home for sunnier skies. It’s a love letter, a goodbye, to Washington. And there are quite a few direct references to the Pacific Northwest, not the least of which is the song featured above, “Over Rainbows and Rainier” — the high point (or low point, depending on your perspective) of the album.
There’s a moment, three minutes and 24 seconds into the song, a moment that clearly wasn’t planned, where Jurado has to stop to collect himself. That moment is all of six seconds long — a hairs breath of time, really — just after Jurado sings the line “I forgot I was human” and trips up. He later said in an interview he’d begun to tear up. Tears are not heard, obviously, but the halt in the song, the palpable pause in the verse, feels like an eternity, and you’re right there with him, arm in arm, feeling everything he’s feeling. His is a magic not many can muster.
And that’s where the beauty of self-production comes into play. Had another person produced the record, they would have pushed for another take, for Jurado to clear his head and try again. But it’s precisely this emotion, this connection to himself and to the listener, that he alone can convey.
You can pick up any one of Jurado’s last four albums (out of 16 over the last 22 years) and be blown away. At the end of my review for Visions of Us On the Land for the 2016 Top 31, I speculated that this may be the end for Jurado. He’d just finished the trio of albums with Richard Swift, and I was convinced that it was Swift that had brought the magic out of Jurado. I can’t tell you how pleased I am that I was wrong. The Horizon Just Laughed is testament that Jurado just keeps getting better and better. If you’re not listening to him on the regular, there’s no time like the present.
6. Chris by Christine and the Queens
7. Wanderer by Cat Power
8. Tell Me How You Really Feel by Courtney Barnett
9. The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs by Wye Oak
10. Ruins by First Aid Kit
11. Cocoa Sugar by Young Fathers
12. Loner by Caroline Rose
13. Big Red Machine by Big Red Machine
14. I’ll Be Your Girl by The Decemberists
15. The More I Sleep the Less I Dream by We Were Promised Jetpacks
16. Joy as an Act of Resistance by IDLES
17. Hell-On by Neko Case
18. Superorganism by Superorganism
19. Living in Extraordinary Times by James
20. Thank You for Today by Death Cab for Cutie
21. Black Panther: The Album by Kendrick Lamar
22. Suspiria (Music for the Luca Guadagnino Film) by Thom Yorke
23. Merrie Land by The Good, the Bad & the Queen
24. Room 25 by Noname
25. WARM by Jeff Tweedy
26. God's Favorite Customer by Father John Misty
27. Vessel by Frankie Cosmos
28. For Ever by Jungle
29. Twerp Verse by Speedy Ortiz
30. Remain in Light by Angélique Kidjo
31. This One’s for the Dancer & This One’s for the Dancer’s Bouquet by Moonface