Song of the Day: Damien Jurado - Exit 353

Local Music, Song of the Day
02/12/2016
Jim Beckmann
photo by Elise Tyler

Every Monday through Friday, we deliver a different song as part of our Song of the Day podcast subscription. This podcast features exclusive KEXP in-studio performances, unreleased songs, and recordings from independent artists that our DJ’s think you should hear. Today’s song, featured on the Afternoon Show with Kevin Cole, is “Exit 353” by Damien Jurado from his 2016 album, Visions of Us on the Land, due March 18th on Secretly Canadian.

Damien Jurado - Exit 353 (MP3)

Novelists often describe how characters they create can take on lives of their own. Almost as passive vessels, these novelists merely direct as their creations - perhaps driven by some other power or by laws of logic and nature these creators could only guess at - act, move and build upon their imagined word in meaningful ways. And if some songwriters were likened to these novelists, Damien Jurado would certainly be one.

Not only is the Seattle native positively prolific, but his dozen albums written in the past two decades are populated with relatable characters in poignant situations (my mind still reels at the woeful fraternal relationship in Ghost of David’s “Medication”). And just as novelists themselves tend to evolve, so has Damien Jurado extended his reach beyond his initial Carver-esque shorts with his most recent three albums, including his forthcoming Visions of Us on the Land (due March 18th), which form a thematic trilogy. The first of these, 2012’s Maraqopa, began as a singular work, but the central character, an unnamed societal dropout who discovers elements of himself within the titular (and imaginary) town’s mysteries, wanders post-car crash into the next album, 2014's Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son. Despite, or more likely because of, further discoveries and events, our nameless character continues on again, in Visions of Us on the Land. It's likely that without Jurado's control, he would remain a perpetual voyager of sonic, psychic and physical spaces, but in these songs and in Jurado's sonorous voice and expert orchestration, he's our also our Everyman, our way out of our own daily grind and our entry into our own introspection of the soul.

Today's featured song, "Exit 353", is the one Jurado's producer, Richard Swift (who, we should point out, recorded an album of his own called The Novelist!) thought might be the album's "single". In fact, it is more of an entry point than an exit, and although it sits at a pivotal turn, about 2/3 of the way into the album (typically, a story arc's moment of reflection and self-doubt), it asks us to consider, "Are we all not lost in song?" Thematically, yes, absolutely, we are all by this point if we've been listening to the trilogy. But even as newcomers, as those who skipped the exposition and seek to jump into the third act, we'll be delighted by the song's rich production, fuzzy distortion and psychedelic propensities, enough to be moved also by the song's existential queries (the most poetic of which: "Are we all not stars here on the ground?"). If this is what it means to be "lost in song", then sure - and Tolkien can stick it - it's best to wander lost in Damien Jurado's world ("You were with me all along") any day.

It may be some time, though, for Damien Jurado to wander into yours. He is touring Europe for most of Spring, and as of yet there are no plans announced for a U.S. tour. But of course, he'll come through Seattle at some point, and you can find out when and where if you keep tabs on his website and Facebook page. Until then, check out the official video of "Exit 353", directed by Elise Tyler (who also snapped the promo pic above):

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