Joan of Arc album review, ‘Testimonium Songs’


Joan of Arc. From L to R: Melina Ausikaitis, Theo Katsaounis, Tim Kinsella, Bobby Burg. (CHRIS STRONG PHOTOGRAPHY)
August 22, 2013
JOAN OF ARC
“Testimonium Songs”

Kindred spirits: Sonic Youth, Gastr del Sol, Lou Reed

Show: With Co La on Thursday at DC9.
Show starts at 8:30 p.m. 202-483-5000. www.dcnine.com. $10.

The musical project known as Joan of Arc isn’t exactly a band, and its founder, Tim Kinsella, has long made music that isn’t exactly rock. The ever-changing group’s latest project is “Testimonium Songs,” adapted from verse by the late Charles Reznikoff in collaboration with a Chicago theater troupe called Every House Has a Door. The inspiration, which is both unusual and disturbing, comes from courtroom transcripts of workplace-negligence cases between 1885 and 1915.

These so-called songs — from offhand ditties to coiling art-rock compositions — range from one to 14 minutes long. The opening “Amelia” is among the more direct tracks: Accompanied only by acoustic guitar, Kinsella sings of a 14-year-old orphan girl whose shoulder-length hair was caught in a stitching machine’s shaft. The lyrics are precise and unflowery, delivered in a tart conversational style.

Musically, a cappella numbers such as “Jury Duty” are even simpler. But the album’s standouts are its longer pieces, “Mosaic of Bolts” and “The Bird’s Nest Wrapped Around the Security Camera.” Kinsella, bassist Bobby Burg and drummer Theo Katsaounis enlist such art-rock veterans as David Grubbs and Melina Ausikaitis to construct music that pummels and coos, squawks and broods. Mostly instrumental, these tracks don’t provide much direct testimony, but they forcefully conjure shock and pain.

Mark Jenkins

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