U.S. Maple
Acre Thrills
(Drag City)

Joan of Arc
how can any thing so little be any more?
(Jade Tree)

Analogy: Pretend everything that you love about American rock music--even in the form of all your guilty pleasures--morphs into a collectable, decorative plate displayed on your mantle. It fills your home, along with other gaudy, commonplace items; it's comforting, and you get used to it. But one day, impulse leads you to lift the decorative plate from its stand and drop it. Your pretty plate shatters on the floor beneath you.

You snap out of the momentary trance and scramble to put the plate back together. But, instead of attempting to return the plate to its original condition, you decide to mix and match your favorite pieces. The epoxy bubbles between triangular shards, and sharp chunks stick out from what was once a smooth, concave, circular heirloom. It is now a disruptive mess.

It is beautiful.

The evolution of music has brought about many versions of the meaning of rock. Yet getting to the root of your own personal interpretation is no small task. Sometimes, you have to pick up what is right in front of you, something you hear everyday, and let it shatter and be reassembled. Doing this with no regard for how hideous the end result may be perceived is noteworthy.

Considering that Chicago's Joan of Arc has long held an outward agenda of "disappointing the fans" of their prior projects (Cap'n Jazz), they managed to shed the inhibitions that usually accompany songwriting. Doing so allowed them the freedom to create albums that more closely resemble tape splicings of the finest guitar lines, drum parts, computer-made ambience, and Tim Kinsella's unmistakably flailing, boyish vocals--all pieced together with no regard for each other, much less the finished product. Yet the result is undeniably something to be applauded.

U.S. Maple, on the other hand, takes a more selfless, acutely intentional approach to deconstructionist rock. What may sound like thoughtless guitar noodling accompanied by random, spastic drums, and a seemingly deaf, pack-a-day lead singer, is actually extremely intricate music that is recreated in their live shows note-for-note. Their fourth full-length release shows a subtle growth toward song structure. For U.S. Maple, it almost sounds like a pop record, yet it's still wholly inaccessible for 99 percent of music listeners.

Joan of Arc's final release (an EP consisting of outtakes from their last album, The Gap) is a bit disappointing. It's plausibly an attempt to fulfill a record label agreement upon their recent breakup, and not the finest representation of the band. (Tim and Mike Kinsella's new band, Owls, will be released on Jade Tree in July; with essentially the same line-up as Cap'n Jazz, it follows along similar lines as Joan of Arc's earlier efforts.) Yet Joan of Arc's discography, along with U.S. Maple's, will surely baffle more listeners in the future than they currently repel. For the time being, their utter disregard for the listener must be appreciated as an art in itself.