Damien Jurado’s Enigmatic Music Process Captured Vividly Via ‘The Monster Who Hated Pennsylvania’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

As part of the rollout for Damien Jurado’s personal record label, Maraqopa Records, he is releasing a new album, one that, like creating a label, marks a revitalization for the singer-songwriter. That, along with the death of frequent producer/collaborator Richard Swift has led Jurado towards a different, more tempered period in his discography.  The Monster Who Hated Pennsylvania is Jurado’s 17th studio album and conceptually, it focuses on ten disparate characters, over the course of ten songs. A unified theme that, along with the debut of Maraqopa, helps define this album’s purpose. 

Jurado is used to releasing an album every year or so, consistently enough that it’s surprising it took him this long to take the reins of the business end. At their worst, those albums make for some great mood music, but at their best, especially on the work he did with Swift and on his first few albums, they achieved a very specific kind of cinematic exuberance. It’s not easy for someone like Jurado to turn their folky ethos towards ubiquity, but through Swift, he was able to combine his collaborator’s pop-maximalism with his restrained lyrical fixations. 

His earliest work, on the other hand, helped to make him, like his contemporaries Jason Molina and Will Oldham, one of the strongest singer-songwriters at the turn of the millennium. That period was marked by skeletal arrangements and hushed vocal deliveries, but since then Jurado has found a way to diversify and stay relevant, even after twenty-five years of recorded output. The Monster Who Hated Pennsylvania sees Jurado employ a more pop-centric take on that trademark sound, as a culmination of his whole discography, albeit without the dense production and accompaniment of his Swift period.

Like any comeback record, The Monster Who Hated Pennsylvania defines its transition while circumventing it. Jurado easily toes the line between seclusion and introduction, crafting an album where even the most immediate tracks sound restrained and well worn. He took charge of the production for this album himself, and the product serves as one of the more accurate presentations of his sound. As new and refreshing as it is, it captures Jurado’s enigmatic process better than most of his albums.

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