Review Summary: Possibly the most accessible and cohesive album they have released.
Joan of Arc Dick Cheney and Mark Twain stands as one of the best ways to be introduced to Joan of Arc. It’s an album that combines the likeable elements of their sometimes-grating indie rock into something that comes off extremely well as a whole. This isn’t to say though that it shrinks away from the large concepts of past albums but instead focuses the idea into something more concise than anything they attempted before. When listening though, it becomes apparent how accessible the album is in contrast to an album like The Gap. The album as a whole shows the band becoming comfortable as an indie band and shedding much of the influence from their previous bands.
“Questioning Ben Franklin’s Ghost” opens up the album and is a fitting introduction to what is going to follow for the majority of the album. With lyrics like “D.C. streets make a neat pentagram, and every dollar bill brags that God’s behind our plan,” it’s not hard to see where the albums going. The song features a musical backdrop of what sounds like an indie rock band doing the soundtrack for a musical. This would seem off putting but it works extremely well and in turn makes the album an extremely cohesive listen almost accidentally. “Apocalypse Politics” follows relying on what has become the strength of many post Cap n’ Jazz bands; sparse acoustic songs. The song keeps in step with the theme of the album but is reminiscent of something that would have come from an earlier album such as A Portable Model of. The album continues with some of Joan of Arc’s best songs of their career: “Half Deaf Girl Named Echo,” “The Details of the Bomb,” “Abigail, Cops and Animals,” “Gripped by the Lips,” and “White and Wrong.” The songs use a variety of instruments to create a more theatrical version of the obtuse indie racket Joan of Arc usually creates while hitting the mark with their electronic experiments. A song like “I Trust a Litter of Kittens Still Keeps the Coliseum” sounds immense. Passing the 6-minute mark the song rides a groove of gentle pianos, and electronics eventually falling into crashing horns that make the song feel like it never really over stays its welcome despite the longer run time. These songs show Joan of Arc making an album that is slightly different from what they have done before yet highlights many of the best moments of previous albums.
As mentioned, this album isn’t entirely accessible. “Still from Kate’s Texture Dictionary” and “Deep Rush” serve as electronic interludes that display the bands experimental aspects yet at times interrupt the flow of the album. Oddly enough though, these are some of the band’s best experiments with the electronic music when listening to them outside of the context of the album. The other slight annoyance is the interludes that consist of spoken word passages about conspiracies. “The Cash in Ad Price,” “The Title Track Of This Album,” and “80’s Dance Parties Most of All” serve as places where Tim Kinsella and other guest speakers list off conspiracies to the point where it becomes kind of funny. The intended result is almost a self-parody of conspiracy theories where if you really look at anything or say anything is a conspiracy then someone might think it is. In this respect, the album is a still of how the internet can easily expand and create ridiculous conspiracies out of nowhere. Despite this, it ruins the flow of the album even more than the electronic experiments, causing it to feel too conceptualized at times to someone taking it literally.
Joan of Arc Mark Twain Dick Cheney serves as a good introduction for someone new to the band that is more inclined to indie music. The best introduction for someone who likes Cap n Jazz like stuff would be their album Life Like or How Memory Works. The album works as Joan of Arc coming into their own as an indie band and learning how to push the experimental side of their music without alienating too many people.