Imagine a typical singer-songwriter. Got a mental image going? Good. That’s pretty much how Damien Jurado spent the first 15 years of his musical career; an undoubtedly very accomplished but still fairly standard-issue chronicler of life, love and other matters of the heart, with an acoustic guitar loitering nearby and - usually - the polar opposite of spring in his step.
In recent years, the sound of Jurado's records has undergone a dramatic transformation only mystical visions or alien abduction could properly explain. Working with producer Richard Swift, the songs remain rock solid - albeit occasionally dodging easy interpretation, in the most interesting manner imaginable - but the surroundings have become slippery, foggy and strange; for evidence, the sprawling, skewered, echo chamber-frequenting sound-craft of 2014's spectacular, psychedelically frazzled Brothers and Sisters of The Eternal Son - which really should hovered near the top of every end of year list going - was reminiscent more of peak-era Flaming Lips than typical urban folkie confessionals.
At 17 tracks, the haunting, melancholy yet vibrant sprawl of Visions Of Us On The Land - Jurado's 12th album - is a more rambling beast than its intensely focused predecessor. This time around, the presentation is a touch more earthy, with the likes of the skeletal title track stripped-back to little more than a sparse strum and plaintive voice. And echo: always lots of enchantingly disorientating echo. At the other extreme, certain cuts are opulently ornamented; Jurado proves equally capable of reaching for the rushing lift-offs on the hypnotic, soaring yet still immeasurably sad "Exit 153" and allowing tunes of the immense caliber of the threadbare, truly moving closer "Kola" to hit home without any extra clutter.
Ultimately, the initially overwhelming surge of stylistically diverse material hardly matters when every track does such a brilliant job at justifying its presence. Visions Of Us On The Land is a very rare creature, a 17-track album with not a wasted second; it’s also a testament to the immense talent of one of the most under-sung, distinct songwriting talents in the business.