Joan of Arc was signed by Jade Tree records, sound unheard, as a result of the posthumous popularity of Cap'n Jazz, a teen project that included three-fifths of the Arc contingent. One EP and four full-lengths later, the players continue to exhaust the freedom afforded by that initial license: To make any sounds they want, because nobody knows what they should sound like. And neither, they'll admit, do they.
The Gap won't whisk you away on horseback to sunstreaked meadows, or draw your belly to the bar of a chattering inebriatorium, or splash transcendent colors across your living-room walls to match the drapes. Joan of Arc strives to undermine such routinely enforced expectations and spent eight months on this CD to achieve that objective.
The early Joan of Arc sessions employed a rotation of over one hundred musicians. The experience of accommodating such a horde tamed both the band's amplitude and its egos; it also taught the remaining five members -- Tim Kinsellas (now plural), his brother Mike Kinsella, Todd Mattei, Jeremy Boyle and Matt Clark -- how to make cohesive recordings amid disruption. The Gap is a patient and understanding musical conversation between plucked and bowed strings, computer-governed sounds, drums and the vocal track. The fact that this conversation never took place -- it was created at the editing table, some pieces utilizing up to one hundred tracks -- belies its homey sounds: fingers squeaking across guitar strings, chairs inching into position, and shirtsleeves rustling as they reach for switches that keep us believing we're still in Kansas.
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Singer/lyricist Tim Kinsellas's voice doesn't carry a tune -- probably can't -- and many of the words he utters don't "mean" any more than a drumroll does. He placidly inserts phrases as toy boats in a pond, insinuating mood and direction, then watches them sink before launching more. The verse-refrain-verse convention is absent, existing only in memoriam as traces of lost songs appear briefly, then disintegrate. On "As Black Pants Make Cat Hairs Appear," for example, a refrain breaks apart with each repetition. On a smaller scale, individual tones are not spared the band's biology-class curiosity, as on "(You) (I) Can Not See (You) (Me) as (I) (You) Can," in which decays are removed, sustains are unsustained, attacks are withdrawn. Such comings and goings leave the tracks pocked with -- what else? -- gaps, which you must navigate on your own as the low-impact linearity will not automatically propel you. But "Pleasure Isn't Simple," as track seven indicates -- which is not to say that it is difficult, either: These are young, skateboarding, pizza-loving Chicagoans with no highfalutin raison d'être to grapple with. They have simply taken experimentation out of the academy and brought it home to the kitchen, where they can best decide how many toppings to put on track six and whether the last track should have a thick or a thin crust.