In the broad view, Seattle’s had two major pop-music movements recently: folk-type rock, and space-y hip-hop. Last year, peak albums representing both genres received international acclaim — Fleet Foxes’ “Helplessness Blues” and Shabazz Palaces’ “Black Up” — and from the look of spring 2012, we might have a repeat. Each style is going full steam ahead into the new year.
This season’s marquee players are Shabazz affiliates THEESatisfaction, whose debut album comes out late March, and Seattle folk-boom godfather Damien Jurado — releasing his excellent 12th album “Maraqopa” Feb. 21. Jurado performs a record-release show Friday at the Neptune Theatre in the University District with Gold Leaves and Bryan John Appleby.
“Maraqopa” is already being called a psychedelic record by critics because it sets an LSD tone with track one and lead single “Nothing is the News,” featuring waves of electric guitar solos. And while that song does indeed sound like the soundtrack to a night spent wearing a sombrero and sunglasses, the rest of the album is zenlike, perfect for drinking tea at home or driving through Snoqualmie Pass and marveling at the scenery. It’s the second great set of songs in a row Jurado has made with Oregon producer Richard Swift, following their 2010 album “Saint Bartlett.”
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No matter that “Maraqopa” occasionally sounds exactly like Neil Young circa the ’70s. Jurado’s songwriting is comfortable without being lazy; tunes consist of deep lyrics with a few strums and a catchy melody, sometimes with an unexpected chord change forcing the song into a peculiar/pretty zone. And his tenor voice remains a world unto itself, distant and glowing.
With Swift’s home-studio wizardry, it all works as a coherent whole.Swift imparts trembling intimacy to the back-up singers on “Working Titles” and “So On, Nevada,” and warped streaks to synthesizers on “Reel to Reel” — sonic details that make a big impact.
Jurado has produced his own music in the past, sometimes with very good results, like on 2000’s “Ghost of David.” But with Swift, everything is relaxed and arranged just-so, down to the hanging dissonant piano notes and crisp woodblock on “This Time Next Year.” When Jurado begins the song in his crystal-perfect falsetto intro, the effect is warm and icy, simultaneously.
This kind of working relationship between vocalist/songwriter and producer is exciting. Like Guru and DJ Premier from the hip-hop group Gangstarr in the ’90s, Jurado and Swift have chemistry that commands attention without being grabby about it. And along with the quality of the songs in their raw form, the cool brilliance of their delivery and presentation together is what makes “Maraqopa” a joy to return to.
Image courtesy Secretly Canadian Records