A Beacon of Light in an Otherwise Dark Hell

Joan of Arc

He’s Got the Whole This Land is Your Land in His Hands

Joyful Noise Records, 2017

Review by Kent Manthie                                  Joan of Arc He's Got... cover

After one of the most depressing and awful years in modern memory (2016), 2017 is shaping up to be a better one (so far, anyway). The one good thing that has happened so far this year is the new album from Joan of Arc, He’s Got the Whole This Land is Your Land in His Hands, their first since 2013’s Testimonium Songs, which was a soundtrack of sorts to the dance troupe, Every Door a Window and their dance piece, Testimonium, which was a re-creation, of sorts, of the trial of some labor leaders in the late 19th century; not to slight the importance or significance of the events of this “labor dispute”…not unlike some of the other infamous labor-management rifts (to put it nicely), like the “Haymarket Bombing”, a reaction to police violence (yeah – that bastion of wonderful cops – the same Chicago PD who, in 1968, beat the shit out of all the “hippies” & “yippies”, etc. who’d come to Chicago to protest the pro-Vietnam candidates there (Humphrey? Forget it – just more of Johnson’s, up to that point, disastrous war policies!) That was a POLICE riot. No, it was not the fault of the protesters who’d come from all over the country; the Chicago PD had orders from Dick “Election Fixer” Daley, that no good son-of-a-bitch. But I’m getting away from myself here. I just wanted to highlight the historically vicious hell that anyone who had any balls to agitate for labor rights went through which is what Every Door a Window performed, in their Testimonium dance work. I’m glad that Joan of Arc did the music for them (Testimonium Songs). They bring what Every Door a Window was trying to do to a segment of people who may or may not have otherwise been aware of it.

Testimonium Songs, basically an EP, with just six songs on it, came on the heels of 2012’s wonderful Life Like, on which the worked again with legendary Chicagoan Steve Albini. I could go on for another paragraph, describing what a remarkable album Life Like was and how it differed from previous JOA albums with its stripped down sound, its sparser sound of drum kit, guitars, bass and vocals, but I am here to elucidate on there new album, which I shall, from here on out, discuss.

He’s Got… is not as stripped down as their last two were. This time they’ve brought Jeremy Boyle back, and Melina Ausikaitis too. The album starts out with a great opener: “Smooshed That Cocoon”, something that could only come from the wonderfully creative mind of Tim Kinsella. By the time we get to the middle part of the album, it goes into a kind of laid back, but “busy” mosaic of sonic gravitas. “Never Wintersbone You” talks about Phil Collins and his first solo hit, “In the Air Tonight”, from his first solo LP, Face Value, which was written and recorded around the time he was going through a particularly nasty divorce, which, ironically, provided some of the impetus of Face Value. Anyway, it’s hard to really know what they’re singing about unless one knows the context. Also, the last two cuts on the album, “F is For Fake” and “Ta-ta Terrordome” are great and show that JOA still have ‘it’.

As soon as I read that Joan of Arc had a new album out, I immediately went to work and, once I had it, I listened to it all the way through, of course, and was just blown away by its brave, forward-looking, fearless intensity. Every song really shines on this and I can’t think of anything I’d change about it. Oh, I suppose, if I were, say, Robert Christgau, I’d look and look until I found something negative about it that I could use to sound oh-so above it all, etc. but I’m not Christgau. Just keep in mind what Lou Reed says about Christgau in between songs on his rather rare live LP, Take No Prisoners. An album I would wholeheartedly recommend to any Lou Reed fan.

As far as He’s Got the Whole This Land is Your Land in His Hands, it is a great shift – a perfect album to come between the whole Life Like/Testimonium Songs sound that JOA put out and to what they’ve grown into in the time since. Time will only tell what’s to come next for Tim and co. but I only hope that there is, indeed more! This album is a beautiful piece of music; it all fits together nicely; something, not unlike most, if not all, JOA albums have in common: they’re best enjoyed when listened to their entirety in one setting. Do whatever you have to do, but get this album!!! -KM.

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