Joan of Arc – 1984
The experimental stalwarts' 24th album places guitarist Melina Ausikaitis front and centre, and the result is their best record in years.
Joan of Arc are certainly a bit of a Marmite outfit, and those who take against the Chicago mainstays have accused them of weirdness for the sake of it. Their supporters meanwhile see the value in frontman Tim Kinsella having an outlet for his stranger indulgences, having stuck more faithfully to traditional indie rock formulae with the likes of Cap’n Jazz and Owls. On last year’s He’s Got the Whole This Land is Your Land in His Hands, their first full-length in four years, the band were true to form, turning out a wildly eclectic affair that was probably only going to find an audience amongst their hardcore following.
1984, their 24th LP of a near 25 year career, marks another dramatic change in direction. It’s headed up not by Kinsella but by guitarist Melina Ausikaitis, who handles lead vocals on eight of the nine tracks. Unlike He’s Got the Whole... – and indeed much of the Joan of Arc discography – it’s a stylistically cohesive effort too, primarily consisting of Ausikaitis delivering lilting, honeyed to the point of saccharine vocals over undulating, ambient backdrops. Her voice is bound to bring Joanna Newsom to mind in most listeners, although she channels Carrie Brownstein too on perhaps the album’s rawest cut, People Pleaser.
It’s an album that is going to throw even the most dedicated of followers for a loop, not least because there’s a real restraint to the instrumental composition – Maine Guy is almost a capella, so tranquil are the electronics, whilst Psy-fi/Fantasy and its harmonious relationship between synths and acoustic guitars call to mind the mellower side of The Flaming Lips, or maybe Thurston Moore’s 2011 solo album Deconstructed Thoughts. Vermont Girl, the only track on which the guitars begin to recall Kinsella’s more straightforward emo forays, is similarly laidback. He deserves great credit for giving Ausikaitis, who's only been in the band since 2012, this experimental platform, as does she for seizing it with both hands.
Listen to: People Pleaser, Maine Guy, Psy-fi/Fantasy