In Defense of Simple Songs and Little Things

Allocate // Damien Jurado

Damien Jurado’s drifting, slow-burning “Allocate” is an enchanting testament to the enduring beauty of well-executed simple art. So go ahead — pick up that guitar you can only play two chords on. Jurado didn’t need a third.

Must Peep Monday #21

A hovering, dreamy organ is the first sound you hear in Damien Jurado’s “Allocate.” There is no keystroke impact sound, leaving just the endlessly sustaining tails which take on an ethereal, atmospheric feel. The droning chords are soon joined by lazy acoustic guitar strums bolstering the chugging tempo which is maintained by a steady, soft drum beat. These opening seconds, where the instruments sway back and forth between two chords with the metronomic consistency of a hypnotist’s swinging pocket watch, establish the gist of “Allocate,” and there are few surprises from there. The entire song coasts weightlessly along on those two chords, never betraying the mesmerizing back-and-forth with which it lulls you into its woozy reverie.

Jurado’s lyrics are fantastically weird and imaginative with a subtle 70’s psych-rock tinge, unmistakable in lines like “waiting around for the witches to drown.” “Allocate,” in fact, opens with one of my favorite introductory lyrics of all time: “I arrived at two / from a thought I had.” That simple, yet heady twist sets the tone nicely for the rest of the song, comprised of very familiar, consistent ideas executed to perfection without ever sounding repetitive.

Deliberate execution is the backbone of “Allocate.” The song isn’t all that complicated nor highlighted by virtuosic performance or orchestral-tier composition. Its beauty is in its simplicity; from the two chords that rock the harmony back and forth like a sleeping baby to the instrumentation comprised of the usual suspects — guitar, bass, keys, drums, and vocals. Jurado’s precise attention, to basics rather than detail, is what enables “Allocate” to stretch two chords successfully into four minutes and forty-two seconds.

Jurado’s “Allocate” is much like those modern abstract art paintings everyone loves to roast, where the whole thing is three blue circles and a triangle on a red background. “Pfff, I could’ve done that myself.” Maybe so, but it’s nice to look at, no? Art is not a contest. When we evaluate art of any kind based on how “easy” or “hard” it was for the artist to produce, we’re judging the beauty of a walk in the woods by how fast we finish. The creative landscape is for hikes and picnics, not marathons and sprints.

We see some art, and we think, “Well this sucks. Probably took the artist fifteen minutes.” But is it cool to look at? Yes? Then it’s good art. “I could’ve written this hit song!” Is it fun to listen to? Yes? Good art. (Also, even if you could’ve, you still didn’t.) But say you could’ve “done that” — so what? Why is that bad anyway?

How painfully negative — to think that, because this is easily attainable, it’s shit. When art is engaging in spite of its apparent simplicity or low level of difficulty, is that not magical? Rather than diminishing the validity of the art, could this realization instead reaffirm the validity of the artist in all of us?

Too many of us have been led to believe that art is a predetermined gift, a gene you either have or don’t (both patently false ideas). We can and should choose to see art like “Allocate”, or that of Piet Mondran or Kandinsky as encouragement. “I could’ve done that.” Exactly! You could’ve, and you can, and you should! Art is no intangible secret reserved for a chosen few; it’s just something humans do. Bees build hives; cats knock shit over at night; humans sing, dance, and paint. Art does not have to be hard to be worthwhile.

“Allocate” doesn’t reinvent the wheel; an admirable ambition but not always necessary when the already-established wheel can get you so far. Jurado’s resolute commitment to uncomplicated ingredients proves just how far those wheels can go and how bottomlessly novel the scenery can be. “Allocate” is a testament to the endless wellspring of artistic expression and experience that is a guitar, a bass, a drum set, a keyboard, and a vocalist playing a couple chords in predictable tandem; a blueprint that continues to blossom with fresh, compelling music even after all these years.


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