Post Rock Jr.

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Chicago’s Joan of Arc has come a long way from the emo-punk days of its members’ former band, Cap’n Jazz. While other past Cap’n Jazz-ers continue to mine teen emotions in the Promise Ring, Tim Kinsella and the rest of JOA seem bent on joining the inner circle of Chicago’s post-rock elite. Joan of Arc seems to come off as upstart kid brother to the more well-established and accomplished likes of Gastr Del Sol, Tortoise and June of 44. Infected with other people’s ideas and some high-minded goals of its own, JOA’s gone into the studio to fulfill its ambitions and perform its initiation rites.

The band’s third album, Live in Chicago,1999, isn’t a live album at all, but rather a high-concept studio experiment. The group has been whittled down from a five-piece to a trio of guitar, bass and keyboards. This stripped-down sound still relies heavily on electronic elements, drum loops and more than a handful of contributors. But Kinsella is still the mastermind here.

Based mainly in acoustic guitar work and the strange, grad-school-wordplay lyrics of Kinsella’s cracking, warbled vocals, Live ... sets guitar lines quietly adrift to repeat, change gently and return inward upon themselves softly. Slow, rolling, almost invisible song structures and subliminal electronic highlights add to the late-night lost effects of nowhere to go and nothing to prove.

Live in Chicago, 1999 works due to its singular theme that gets varied over and over: Restraint, quiet and introspection – with all the bells and whistles gone and the lights off. The mind and the music are free to wander and wonder. The album’s only shortcoming may be that it’s stretched a little thin at points, and one may wonder if Joan of Arc is perpetuating a fraud in the name of art or running low on ideas.

The result has to be questioned, particularly when one song, "I’m certainly not pleased with my options," isn’t a song at all, but rather a statement on the song lurking in Kinsella’s head and how great it would be if only he could get it out. It also leads to questioning if their cover of Scott Walker’s "Thanks for Chicago, Mr. Jones" was chosen solely for its obscurity. But there’s also a hint of playfulness in the album’s art direction which turns Godard’s Weekend into a high school play featuring Joan of Arc and friends.

These guys may be too smart for their own good, but intellectual in-jokes and second guesses aside, Joan of Arc makes interesting music and provides some heady entertainment.

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