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Friday, June 27, 2008

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Joan of Arc


American label Polyvinyl Records is promoting "Boo Human," the latest effort from the Chicago band Joan of Arc,as their "most accessible, cohesive" work since 1998's "How Memory Works."

News photo
Joan of Arc CHRIS STRONG PHOTO

Core member Tim Kinsella doesn't necessarily agree with his boss' assessment.

"Accessibility seems like a strange thing to praise," says the singer and guitarist in an interview with The Japan Times before embarking on a North American tour.

"Maybe 'Sleepless in Seattle' or something like that will get praise in terms of 'The whole family will love it!' — but that is just not a meaningful way for us to consider what we do."

After listening to the well-written, intricate postrock on "Boo Human," it's easy to side with the label on this one. Formed after the breakup of Kinsella's seminal early-'90s emo act Cap'n Jazz, Joan of Arc have created a dozen LPs, which have been hit-or-miss affairs (2000's abstract "The Gap" comes to mind as an obvious "miss").

Recorded over a week in January, a signup sheet in the studio allowed participants, including Joan of Arc regulars and friends who have backed Prefuse 73, Beth Orton and Wilco in the past, to pick the "Boo Human" tracks they wanted to be a part of. Kinsella's open-door policy saw 13 additional musicians fleshing out the likes of the melodic, contemplative "A Tell-Tale Penis" and the dark, orchestral "Vine on a Wire."

"There is no membership in Joan of Arc," explains Kinsella. "It is more like a bubble-wall that people I know can choose to pass through when they please, according to whatever else they have going on at the time and what makes sense for them. No one joins or quits. We're all grown adults here and there is no reason for anyone to lock anyone else into anything that doesn't make sense for them."

The same cast of characters recently regrouped to record a 10-track EP that will surface in November. Some of the songs were intended for "Boo Human" but didn't get recorded because of the way the sessions were organized. Others were abandoned, such as a 7-minute Yes-inspired instrumental-prog-rock number, because they didn't fit the tone of the disc.

The quick pace at which Kinsella turns out Joan of Arc records, along with solo material and the work he has done as part of free-jazz postpunkers Owls and the more aggressive Make Believe, has earned him the reputation of being one of American underground rock's most prolific songwriters. The idea of creating music at a slower speed baffles him, as does the perception that making records is a slow process.

"It may be the mechanisms and administrative aspects of how music is released that give that impression, because really, if I am a musician, and playing music is what I do every day, what's so strange about 20 or 30 songs (being) written in a year? Writing less than one a week? That doesn't seem like a particularly stressful schedule. What doctor sees one patient a week or what plumber fixes one sink a week? They'd be called lazy."

Joan of Arc's upcoming Japan appearances are their first since 2001. He admires Japanese fans' attentive, and respectful nature.

"I have very limited interaction with Japanese people that are into our music because we can only get so far speaking monosyllabically to each other. Sometimes a question will betray that there's been a deep listening and it's flattering and exciting, but shocking, as we are used to a more American consumer mode of superficial engagement."

Kinsella's focus will shift come fall when he begins a Master's degree program in writing. Although there's no saying yet whether this will curb Joan of Arc's recorded output, it will definitely affect performances. He states that most of the band's gigging members assume that the North American and Japan dates this month to support "Boo Human" will be "the last long, exhausting tour of (their) lives."

Joan of Arc play June 29 at Birdland, Sendai (6 p.m., ¥3,000, [022] 223-7926); 30 at Sandanista, Yamagata (6:30 p.m., ¥1,500, [023] 622-8962); July 2 at Tokuzo, Nagoya (6 p.m., ¥3,000, [052] 733-3709); 3 at Alecx, Matsumoto (6 p.m., ¥3,000, [0263] 38-0050); 4 at Daikanyama Unit, Tokyo (6:30 p.m., ¥4,000, [03] 5459-8630); 6 at Sunsui, Unagidani (5 p.m., ¥3,500, [06] 6243-3641); 7 at Metro, Kyoto (6:30 p.m., ¥3,000, [075] 752-4765). Prices are for advance tickets; add ¥500 to buy at the door. Tokyo, Unagidani and Kyoto shows also feature Japanese band nhhmbase.

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