WHAT YOU WON'T notice on first listen is how stunningly simple the songs on Damien Jurado's Maraqopa are. The bones of its songs are sparse and uncomplicated melodies backed by very simple chords. But Jurado and producer Richard Swift have made an elegant, dense, psychedelic record around Jurado's impressively stripped-down songs, from the swirling desert peyote trip of "Nothing Is the News" to the gorgeously frail "Museum of Flight," which is one of the most moving love songs in years. It's a magnificent album, easily the equal of Jurado's previous high-water mark, 2010's Saint Bartlett, if not better.
Jurado says the album, from its title on down, is based on a dream. "Maraqopa is a made-up place that I had a dream about, where a guy—in this dream I was having—decides that he's going to commit social suicide. He wakes up in his house, realizes he's had enough. He doesn't want to deal with his family, his friends, nobody. He leaves everything. He just needs to go find himself, find out what life is all about on his own.
"So he leaves, splits town. Nobody knows where he is, if he's dead or alive," Jurado continues. "He's a well-known musician too. The press are freaking out. His fans are let down. He's driving and he comes across this town he's never heard of before called Maraqopa. They're a small community of people. There's no radios, there's no television, there's no cars. There's no modern anything. They don't have telephones. If you want to talk to somebody you go to that person's house and have a conversation.
"When he gets there he realizes they know exactly who he is and why he's there, and he can't figure out why they know that," he says. "They can also read his thoughts. This town of people, they communicate also on a telepathic level. They can do things like levitate. They can do things like transport themselves from one end of the town to the other just by thinking of it. And this really blows his mind, obviously. Now he's starting to question if he's alive or dead. Like, did he die on this drive and not know it? That's kind of what the entire record is about."
The story of Maraqopa, and that of a musician checking out, resonates strongly in the song "Reel to Reel." Wounded and biliously angry, it's sung from the point of view of someone (possibly a fan) who's been left behind: "The greatest songs I'll never hear from a band you started in your mind," Jurado sings. "Leave us hanging on your legend as you exit through the tape recorder."
The song that immediately follows, "Working Titles," is also sung from a fan's perspective. "It's a hate letter to this person's favorite musician," says Jurado. "Think about how let down people were when Kurt Cobain killed himself. People weren't just sad. They were pissed. People were really upset." Jurado wasn't targeting Cobain specifically, he says. "You can lump anybody into that whole thing: Elliott Smith, Syd Barrett, the list goes on. I was basically thinking about this character that I'd dreamt about."
I ask Jurado if the character from his dream reflected any subconscious desire of his own to check out, to walk away. "You know, years ago I thought about it. Like, maybe I should just stop making records and just not say anything. I wouldn't even announce it. Just release the last record and call it a day. And to be honest with you, I thought the same thing when I was making Maraqopa, too.
"I've made the records I always wanted to make. I met some nice people along the way. I made some money and had some great experiences. I saw the world. And maybe that's it," Jurado says. "There was a while where I thought about it. But then I thought, 'Well, why would I do that?' And I just continue. I'm continuing on. I'm excited about what happens next.
"It has its struggles. I struggle through all this stuff. In the end, I don't know if it's worth it. I don't really care about fame or any of that shit. I honestly just do music now for my family. That's really it. My perspective has completely changed. There were years I did it for me, and now I don't want to do that anymore. I want to do it for my family now."