Review Summary: It most likely won't change anyone's mind about Joan of Arc but it may be the most consistent record they've released yet.
“By refusing to embrace humanism and try to understand, rather than alienate the next generation and their choice in music or how they choose to express himself, he has become a fascist neo conservative of rock and roll: the worst kind of hypocrite.”
-Max Bemis on Tim Kinsella-
Joan of Arc has been trapped within an odd predicament for the span of their career as being the arrogant older brothers of emo. The older brother who went to art school and writes weird surlistic poetry about government conspiracies that probably don’t exist. Who is nothing like he used to be and doesn’t seem to care in the least. This is what most people view Joan of Arc and the other Tim Kinsella bands as: pretentious art rock bull****. It also explains why when he writes a sarcastic editorial in AP people like Max Bemis flip out. They miss the person that helped give birth to their movement. They feel insecure that someone who helped popularize that genre has moved on without looking back, while they continue to play that same sort of music.
Life Like is a comeback of sorts. People who have hung on long enough to see Tim Kinsella make something as appealing as the only Owls album, this is your album. Steve Albini comes back to helm the production of the album like he did on Owls. Victor Villareal has joined Joan of Arc and the insane guitar work of Owls is back as if not a day has passed. The winding, almost headache inducing twists, and turns of Villareal riffs remain the perfect backdrop for Kinsella’s flawed vocals. As awesome as this may seem to fans of Joan of Arc, it also comes at the expense of losing guitarist Sam Zurick, who’s riffs at times were equally as good as Villareal’s. Having both of them on here would’ve made Life Like borderline perfect. However, that would be asking far too much of a band that almost takes pride in pissing people off who expect a certain thing from them.
This is without a doubt Villareal’s album. His guitar work takes center stage on nearly every song, especially the opener “I Saw the Messed Binds of My Generation.” The 10-minute plus song is mostly instrumental and gives a good feel for what the rest of the album is going to be like. Theo Katsaounis’ drumming ranges from steady to astonishing on nearly every track. The thundering yet technical rhythms fit in perfectly with the guitar work. Bobby Burg remains as consistent as he has throughout most Joan of Arc’s existence. The one thing that has always been the determining factor, and continues to be, is Kinsella. No matter how many amazing backing musicians he puts together for Joan of Arc albums his vocals seem to be the determining factor to whether people will like it. However, on Life Like, while maybe not sounding any more accessible, he has scaled back some of the bizarre rants of previous albums. This dialed back lyricism might sound like a criticism but it’s somewhat of a relief to the listener, considering how pretentious Kinsella has come off in the past.
Life Like probably won’t change your life like Cap n’ Jazz or Owls may have. Yet what it does show is Kinsella still cares about the people who liked certain musical phases he went through. It also shows that Max Bemis may very well have been wrong.