Joan of Arc
How Memory Works



by Andrew H. EMERITUS
July 15th, 2007 | 13 replies

Release Date: 1998 | Tracklist

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.

Excellent songwriting
Interesting fusion of indie rock and electronic ideas
Wholly pleasant

Tim Kinsella's potentially grating voice
A couple of uninteresting sections
Kinsella's potentially irritating quirks

Recommended Tracks
Gin & Platonic
White Out
A Party Able Model Of

Final Rating: 4/5

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user ratings (41)

Comments:Add a Comment 
The Jungler
July 15th 2007


Album Rating: 3.5

I liked this alot. I need to listen to it again, but for now it's a 3.5. I like both Cap'n Jazz and Owls better though.
Great review.

July 15th 2007


Album Rating: 4.5

Finally some Joan of Arc..

I need more and more Kinsella work entering this site.

Someone needs to rate the rest of their albums but I'd definetly agree this is their best work. The Gap is really good too.

July 15th 2007


hey jungler, would you mind sending me some owls?

July 15th 2007


Cool to see that two of the albums in the staff review box are Kinsella creations. Not a bad album, and a realy good review as well.

Digging: Lil Herb - Pistol P Project

July 15th 2007


Uh... did you really need to put the word "electronic" into like every sentence?

The Jungler
July 16th 2007


Album Rating: 3.5

Cadaveric, give me your e-mail or something and I'll send you a link.

July 18th 2007

152 Comments it's gay i know. hahah

This Message Edited On 07.18.07

August 19th 2007


Album Rating: 3.5

I bought this a week ago for $3 and it's sooooo good.

May 13th 2008


Album Rating: 4.0

I'm a devout JoA fan, so of course I love this album. But I think they didn't arrive at creating really interesting material until Live in Chicago, 1999 and the following albums, as they gradually dropped the emo/ Cap'n Jazz tendencies in favor of more subtle and disarming approaches.

March 6th 2009


i could care less about some of the electronic instrumental tracks

Iamthe Nightstars
May 28th 2010


Album Rating: 3.5

"i could care less about some of the electronic instrumental tracks"

Agreed. That's the weakest thing about this band.

November 11th 2010


i neeed to get this. is this the best JoA album to start?

Contributing Reviewer
September 18th 2012


Why did I wait so long to get this?

Digging: Bjork - Vulnicura

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