Seattle singer-songwriter Damien Jurado didn’t intend for his new album, “Visions of Us on the Land,” to be the third and last installment of a trilogy, but that’s how it turned out. Jurado performs songs from the new album at the Neptune Theatre on Saturday, May 12.
Damien Jurado last played the Neptune Theatre two years ago, clad in white as a self-described “cult leader” of his backing band, a choir and a sold-out room of fans.
If the father of Seattle’s modern folk scene was invoking some kind of heavenly community of believers, perhaps a darker tone is in order for his return engagement Thursday (May 12), in support of his 12th studio album, “Visions of Us on the Land.”
The final piece of a loosely connected and unplanned trilogy that started with 2012’s “Maraqopa” and continued with 2014’s “Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Sun,” “Visions” finds Jurado and producer Richard Swift exploring murky, cotton-candy thick sounds as an unnamed protagonist continues a bizarre road trip and metaphysical journey.
Damien Jurado & the Heavy Light
With Ben Abraham. 8 p.m. Thursday, May 12, at the Neptune Theatre, 1303 N.E. 45th St., Seattle; $17-$18.50 (877-784-4849 or stgpresents.org).
Jurado and Swift started working together on 2010’s “St. Barlett,” and “Visions” feels like a natural progression, as they probe deeper into psychedelic territory. It’s been a revitalizing partnership for Jurado, whom Swift has empowered to reach beyond the typical folk comfort zone.
A lot of neo-folk acts, like Jurado’s friends The Head and the Heart, have embraced the tempting power of a good pop hook as part of their comfort zone, but Jurado has other ideas. He starts “Visions” with the oppressive “November 20,” using its militant pace and urgent thrum to introduce tension that’s never fully relieved until the final note.
Jurado eschews typical song structure even more dramatically on “Mellow Blue Polka Dot,” creating a direct link to “Brothers and Sisters” with an interlude that recalls a track from that album, “Silver Timothy.” (It’s helpful but not necessary when listening to “Visions” to be familiar with the previous two albums.)
“Visions” is at its best on complex songs like “ONALASKA,” which takes its time to build from rattling guitar chords to fuzzed-out bass before finally giving way to a trippy Latin beat.
Jurado’s metaphysical musings can sometimes feel vague — “Where the sun is/Nothing is sure but the time we’ve got” — or even somewhat nonsensical — “Where’s the ceiling/Made from his hand/Has it been removed/And is now in place of the land”). In a more literal vein, he details some of his character’s travels, noting “I had been in the desert, spent time on a mountain/Off of my feet, floating in suspension.”
But it’s where Jurado is now and where he’s headed next that feels most compelling. On the album’s final track, “Kola,” he seems to acknowledge that this might be the end of an epoch: “I will remember you/The way you are right now,” he sings over and over.
If that declaration is also a request of his audience, let us remember Damien Jurado in 2016 as an artist at the height of his powers, making music that sounds and feels like nothing else.