Joan Of Arc
For a band to achieve any sort of great success on their tenth record is a rare thing.
Sure it’s possible - the most recent example being Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion, which gained a huge amount of favorable press coverage, and saw their popularity surging in a way that is unprecedented for a band that’s been around for so long. Whilst the quality of the record no doubt plays a part in the sudden rise in Animal Collective’s stock, it’s arguably a handful of key reviews that caused such an occurrence. Given Pitchfork’s vendetta towards Tim Kinsella, the only permanent member of Joan Of Arc, which borders on personal at times, it seems highly unlikely that Flowers is going to catapult Joan Of Arc further towards the mainstream, nor is it likely to find an audience outside of those already acquainted with their work. This is not a reflection on Flowers, but simply the fact that it seems pretty unlikely that someone is going to bother with their tenth album if they’re ignored the previous nine. Which is a shame, as Flowers would act as a really good primer for those yet to delve into the murky world of Tim Kinsella and Joan Of Arc. For those who are already a fan, it’s a great way to reacquaint oneself with the band. Though lacking in grand gestures common to previous records, its softer approach makes for a gentle reminder of what makes Joan Of Arc such a great band in the first place.
As with every Joan Of Arc album, Flowers deviates from the typical writing process of a band composing in their rehearsal space. Instead, Joan Of Arc headed to the recording studio with no songs written and none of their own instruments, choosing to write and record whatever they came up with using whatever instruments where already available in the studio. Whilst such a process would no doubt be an ill thought out move for most bands, for a band as confident as Joan Of Arc it’s produced a more relaxed, flowing piece of music. Flowers plays to all of Joan Of Arc’s strengths - ‘Fogbow’ blends gargling synths with an unusually delicate vocal performance; ‘The Garden Of Cartoon Exclamations’ mixes piano and vocals with swells of guitar feedback in a way that wouldn’t sound out of place on 2004’s Joan Of Arc, Dick Cheney, Mark Twain; title track ‘Flowers’ is an instrumental workout around a typically esoteric, Kinsella-style acoustic guitar riff. The amount of instrumental pieces is the most surprising thing about Flowers, given that it’s Tim Kinsella’s lyrics that both act as a focal point to Joan Of Arc’s music and attract the most flack from critics. Yet, when you consider that last year’s Boo Human dealt with Tim’s brief marriage and subsequent divorce, it’s understandable that they had to take a step back and produce a much cooler record. There are still the expected hang-ups about Catholicism (“Jesus, what do these guys know that we don’t?”), and the almost-puns (‘Table Of The Laments’ & ‘Fable Of The Elements’), but Flowers isn’t as lyrically engaging as previous efforts have been.
With Flowers, Joan Of Arc have managed to create an album that suggests what they’re capable of; they’ve made an album that serves well as a starter. While it never manages to challenge the listener in ways that previous releases have, it does benefit from having a cooler, distant sound. The relaxed nature of Flowers sits well within the Joan Of Arc back catalogue. Though it may not be their most experimental or their most challenging work, Joan Of Arc’s Flowers is still a worthy addition to any collection.