Review Summary: Almost 10 years after its release, How Memory Works remains as Tim Kinsella's most impressive effort and a near-perfect fusion of pretty, subdued indie rock with electronic ideas.Joan of Arc
's sound essentially brings together the energy of Cap'n Jazz
and their unique brand of punk rock, the pretty atmospheres of fellow Chicago natives Tortoise
and Gastr del Sol
and electronic experiments. The result is a delightfully upbeat brand of indie rock with the occasional foray into electronica. How Memory Works
features a successful fusion of conventional pop structures with clean arpeggiated guitar riffs, occasional detours into more experimental sections (as well as experiments inside the pop song context) and jumps between different styles of song, all while remaining relatively calm and cheery.
Of course, How Memory Works
won't appeal to everyone. Kinsella's abrasive, rarely-in-tune vocals are truly love/hate and while they allow for a range in volume and delivery, it's unlikely that they'll be seriously appealing for too many people. That said, his yelps and occasionally softly sung sections certainly carry a lot of emotional weight, despite their indisputable quirkiness. Additionally, while Joan of Arc's electronics work beautifully in the context of their conventional songs and occasionally on their own, some of the electronic detours ("Osmosis Doesn't Work" in particular) end up being the album's weakest sections. Still, there are plenty of great electronic moments throughout; the beginning drone and stop/start dynamics of "A Pale Orange" and the bleeps and bloops of "Gin & Platonic" or "This Life Cumulative" being fine examples.
Kinsella's ability as a songwriter is evident in almost every one of How Memory Works
' 11 tracks, which is why the record is generally more successful with pop songs than it is with experiments. However, the record's finest moments generally present themselves when the electronics and experiments are integrated into the pop format. "White Out" contains some of the most beautiful guitar work on the album and throws some electronic sounds into the mix, but never at the expense of the song's conventional elements. Probably the most definitive element of How Memory Works
, however, is Kinsella's quirkiness, which features heavily in his lyrics, arrangements and vocal delivery from start to finish. Even the album's gorgeous piano/strings closer, "A Party Able Model Of", in which Kinsella gives his most emotionally fragile performance, begins with an abrupt transition from the loud, upbeat "God Bless America" before Kinsella sings "Everyone's quiet/When the record ends" over a subtle backing of piano chords. The change seems so silly and unconventional at first that it seems like a joke of sorts, but Kinsella keeps singing to the end, ending How Memory Works
on a soft and fragile note.
How Memory Works
really shows Kinsella at the top of his game; quirky enough to be interesting and unique but rarely at the sacrifice of pop sensibility or songwriting. Almost 10 years after its release, How Memory Works
remains as Tim Kinsella's most impressive effort and a near-perfect fusion of pretty, subdued indie rock with electronic ideas.
Interesting fusion of indie rock and electronic ideas
Tim Kinsella's potentially grating voice
A couple of uninteresting sections
Kinsella's potentially irritating quirks
Gin & Platonic
A Party Able Model Of
Final Rating: 4/5