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Joan of Arc: Untangling the twisted web

Joan of Arc are the ideal of the cult band embodied. Plaintive, idiosyncratic and at times uncompromisingly difficult, they will release their thirteenth studio album, entitled Oh Brother, next Tuesday on Polyvinyl.

If you’re a newcomer to the group, get your hands on a copy of 2005’s Boo Human, easily the best entrypoint to the band’s vast discography. Having been around since 1995, Joan of Arc have developed a massive palette of sounds to work from, leading to output that is never truly the same both times around. You get things ranging from the ridiculous complex electronic layering on albums such as The Gap to atmospheric guitar ambience on Guitar Duets.

But Joan of Arc’s music can easily start to become secondary if you take a look at the giant jumbled web of collaborations, side projects and guest appearances which the group’s members have undertaken, everything from raw emo (Cap’n Jazz) to plaintive acoustic guitar (Owen) to abstracted math rock (Friend/Enemy). All these groups share members in grandly incestuous fashion, usually with great results. Hell, the current Joan of Arc touring lineup is exactly the same as that of Owls, a side-project disbanded in 2002, which was actually a reformed alternate lineup of Cap’n Jazz. In other words, there are some definite common threads running through all of the family tree, chiefly a wonderfully caustic worldview, winding guitar lines and rampant, open experimentalism ala Beefheart. It is perhaps telling then, that Oh Brother attempts to rein in the group’s more schizophrenic tendencies by collecting four groups onto four sides of vinyl (“with song lengths varying from 20 minutes to 20 minutes and 36 seconds,” according to the group’s website). While I’ll concede that the album’s method of construction — snippets from multiple studio sessions stitched together into longform pieces — is actually one of the most schizophrenic things Tim Kinsella has ever come up with, at least it’s all under one name now.

Also on the bill are Out Like Lambs, an acoustic group out of New Jersey who seem to have more members than the Polyphonic Spree and who seem to sound little to nothing like Joan of Arc, but a lot like Owen (see below). Additional support comes from locals Take Care, who are coming off a fresh round of studio sessions and we imagine are anxious to return to the stage.

Joan of Arc perform Saturday (February 5th) at Cowboy Monkey, with opening acts Out Like Lambs and Take Care. The show begins at 9:30 p.m. and tickets are $10 in advance.

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