splendid > reviews > 5/22/2003
Joan of Arc
Joan of Arc
In Rape Fantasy and Terror Sex We Trust

Format Reviewed: CD

Soundclip: "Them Brainwash Days"

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Well, well, well... it's rare when the opportunity to say "I told you so" surfaces so quickly. But no sooner had I ranted and raved about Joan of Arc's significant and undeniable contribution to American indie-rock, in the context of both an interview with jack-of-all-trades Tim Kinsella and a review of So Much Staying Alive and Lovelessness, demanding that listeners take a step back and relax for a moment before charging the band with pseudo-intellectualism and producing intentionally difficult music, than a companion album arrives to promptly and wonderfully underscore my point. Joan of Arc are not out to make life miserable for record-buyers; they are out to document a sound -- a sound they think is absent from the American musical landscape.

And guess what? The result is difficult music. And it's a difficult album. But from beginning to end, it could very well be the last piece of proof I needed that JOA can do no wrong. It's no big secret that the twelve new tracks featured on In Rape Fantasy and Terror Sex We Trust (plus two remixes of material that originally appeared on a Kinsella side-project CD-R) were rejected by Jade Tree during the initial phase of a hoped-for double album, in favor of the material that appears on So Much Staying Alive.... That's not to say In Rape Fantasy... is a toss-off -- far from it. It is, in fact, the completion of a creative thought.

Less the original band as we have come to know it than an ensemble of musicians with their own unique interests and directions, In Rape Fantasy... races headlong into (what I perceive to be) veiled attacks on governmentality and Y2K-machismo and questions of self-identity, while featuring nearly a dozen variations of JOA personnel. "Barge", credited to the Friend/Enemy Live Band and featuring stalwart Todd Mattei on vocals, is a dizzying dirge that revels in a counter-melodic piano figure and Kinsella's ghostly wails as harmony. Elsewhere, "Moonlighting" is a noise-track with a cutting coronet line courtesy of Rob Mazurek and lyrics that name-drop Bruce Willis and Prince without cracking a smile. "Dinosaur Constellations Part 1" begins with chamber sequence that would be right at home on Rachel's Selenography; the fact that Kinsella's battle cry "God is the bomb" becomes the dominant feature throughout the remainder of this and the other two parts of "Dinosaur Constellations" is an indication of how far out in left field JOA's conception of chamber rock rests. The first and second sections of the suite are interrupted by a dark spoken-word noise piece featuring Sam Zurick. Called "Them Brainwash Days", it does little to affect the overall fluidity of the piece and draws more attention to Zurick's talent and enormous contribution to the group. Kinsella remarks on "Excitement Is Exciting" -- "Oh wouldn't it be funny to be funny. But wouldn't it be nice to be nice." Lucky for those of us along for the ride that JOA is at least trying to relate.

One minor disappointment is the lack of a lyric sheet in the liner notes. It's not that the lyrics are particularly hard to hear on the majority of these mixes -- it's just that Kinsella's lyrics generally read like great prose or captivating, deconstructed poetry. It was nice to have the opportunity to enjoy them on their own in the past, but I'll live.

Well, that's it. I'm pooped. I think I've done all the JOA talking that I'm going to do for the next few months. If, however, Kinsella and company choose to launch Joan of Arc mark III upon returning from their summer tour of Europe, I'm up for it. Rarely is so-called "difficult music" so rewarding, and rarely is it so simple. I told you so.



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