- Sound Quality
‘Pine Cone’ could be Joan of Arc’s defining work
Few individuals have influenced the emo and indie rock genres while receiving such minimal credit as Tim Kinsella. While most paying close attention to his native Chicago music scene know Kinsella from the momentous Cap’n Jazz, it’s later incarnation Owls, and the project he’s devoted the most work to as the sole permanent member, Joan of Arc, it’s his incessant need to constantly reinvent himself and the Joan of Arc moniker that has kept him out of the limelight many of his peers have come into. With Pine Cone, the second of three instrumental full-length albums planned for this year, Kinsella takes this reinvention to a new level. Although this is not Joan of Arc’s first, or even second foray into instrumental music, it’s without a doubt the group’s most eclectic.
Working through two movements, each totaling about nineteen minutes, Pine Cone is a fast moving compilation of sounds, each bleeding into the next, while maintaining a near-constant presence of a driving and lead instrument. Unlike most ambient records, it’s rare to find Pine Cone drone on, repeating instrumental phrases for more than a couple of bars. Instead, with the help of Todd Mattei providing programming, along with Matt Clark and Jonathan Van Herik both contributing guitar leads, Kinsella leads this incarnation in a steadfast progression of sounds from all spectrums. Acoustic guitar picking and simple sustains are most commonly found as the primary instrument, as programed drum beats, synthesized bass loops and at a later point, his own voice singing the album’s singular words in his instantly recognizable falsetto, come in and out of each section.
Although similar in their constant flux, both tracks on this album, simply titled “Side A” and “Side B,” offer noticeable differences. As noted by Kinsella in the introduction to this album, Brian Eno’s Ambient series – and I would venture to say his entire catalog – play a heavy role in influencing Pine Cone. “Side A,” for instance, takes it’s most obvious cues from Eno’s landmark album, Ambient 1: Music for Airports, in the phasing nature of it’s complex patterns, whilst those same patterns echo the still quirky rock sensibilities of his earlier work in Another Green World. When “Side B” comes in, the tonality of the album, although only slightly, shifts to resemble the spacey air of Eno’s later work in Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks.
What will strike none as surprising is this album’s unabashed rebellion to everything the Joan of Arc moniker has previously introduced listeners to. It’s a trend the group has stuck to for nearly two decades. As it turns out, the only thing more constant than the revolving instrumentation of this album is the band’s refusal to be pigeonholed or found presumptuous. Notwithstanding, the fact that this is arguably Tim Kinsella’s furthest departure from what’s become expected of this moniker, Pine Cone may just be the band’s defining work because of the sole reason that it is such a desertion.
Sound Quality: More often that not, it’s easy to tell the difference between the sound of a home recording and that of a professional recording studio. As technology improves and equipment becomes more affordable, this barrier is often lowered and the difference is indistinguishable. This is a perfect example of the latter, as Tim Kinsella does a fantastic job at recording the album, and Neil Strauch does a masterful job at mixing it for the vinyl format.
Packaging: As enjoyable and engaging of an album this is, Pine Cone’s most remarkable aspect is it’s packaging. Enclosed in a beautiful six color screen-printed outer sleeve, the inner sleeve – also screen-printed – houses the actual vinyl, pressed on 180-grams. The vibrant colors and matte texture in the sleeves make for an extremely nice package, hand-assembled by Landland in their Minneapolis print shop. An interesting thing to note is that the record’s center labels list the artist as Tim Kinsella, not Joan of Arc, which is the manor in which this album was originally going to be released. This gives the impression that the decision was seemingly made after the album was completed and sent to the pressing plant.
Extras: A digital download card is included, as well as three small high-quality prints with information on the record label and prior releases.
Summary: Although it’s unclear as to whether Kinsella’s description of the album as, “a (mostly) instrumental sonic analogy of the form of a Pinecone,” should be taken literally, or as a joke, Pine Cone is an excellent exercise in Eno-like ambiance without entering into the post-rock stylings of Kinsella’s previous offerings.
You can pick up ‘Pine Cone’ at Landland. The pressing is limited to 500 hand-numbered copies.