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Damien Jurado's 2012 album Maraqopa — a dreamscape narrative that found the once-quiet singer-songwriter enmeshed in spacey psychedelic rock — is only half the story.
After a stalled effort at a follow-up record, Jurado took the advice of a friend and revisited the album's world — which came to him, fully formed, in a dream four years ago. The result is Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son, released in January on Secretly Canadian.
"They're waiting for the second coming of the Messiah to happen via UFO. The main character is a beacon between Heaven and Earth, and they're using him as a human radio tower. He doesn't know it, but he is," Jurado says. "You could say it's biblical in the references — there's stuff about the resurrection, stuff about ascension — but people can look at it in many different ways."
The story, as fleshed out on Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son, is told across a landscape that's both recognizable and strangely altered. Jurado's eye for details makes the action of the story sudden and jarring, an effect that adds to the unsettling impression left by his characters.
"I always tell people, 'Before you delve into the new record, you have to delve into Maraqopa.' It could easily be record one and record two, like Rubber Soul and Revolver. Maraqopa sets the stage. It's like holding the book, and this new record is like opening the book," Jurado says.
Though Maraqopa (no relation to Maricopa County — the name and spelling came to him in the dream) and Brothers and Sisters are albums full of lyrical complexities, Jurado didn't necessarily labor over the process.
"All I'm doing is describing what I'm seeing in the dream. The person I'm talking about in 'Silver Timothy' is same person I'm talking about in 'Jericho Road,'" he says. "It's really about confronting the devil or yourself, your sin."
Taking each album on its own might make a bit of sense for listeners, but Jurado says the full listening experience is necessary to bring his story to life.
"To me, it's all one giant piece. It's funny that the label will try to pick a song off the record and make it a single. To me, 'Silver Timothy' doesn't make any sense unless you listen to it with the rest of the record. Lyrically, you have no idea; you have no frame of anything," Jurado says. "It's almost like taking a photo of something, but you're only focused on the nose of the person or the ear. That's what I think singles are like. You have to listen to the giant picture. If you pick just one song off any record — concept record or not — you're missing the big picture, and I think that's sad."
Both records are the result of a particularly fruitful partnership with producer Richard Swift, who coaxed from Jurado an ambitious and entirely different sound from the lo-fi folk that marked the first 15 years of his career.
"It's no different than creating a soundtrack for a movie. The music has to be picked to match what's going on in the story and the visuals," Jurado says.
Looking back on Maraqopa and Brothers and Sisters, Jurado says the fact the records exist is surreal. But he had no choice but to chase the dream that had such a profound impact on him.
"I didn't set my alarm and say, 'I'm going to have this dream tonight,' but I've had dreams like that before," Jurado says. "The only unusual thing is having the impact it's had on my life. It was spiritual. It came at the right time for me, that's all. I think we all go through periods of time when we need a wake-up call, and that's what it was for me."