Joan Of Arc leader Tim Kinsella oozes ambition. With dozens of albums to his name (under this moniker, as well as a member of Cap’n Jazz and Owls), his prolific nature is rarely questioned these days, even if his creations can be highly questionable. This year, Kinsella and company partnered with experimental Chicago theater group Every House Has A Door to create Testimonium, a production based on Charles Reznikoff’s found-poetry project Testimony. This three-part production included Joan Of Arc’s original compositions based on Reznikoff’s work, and in an attempt to bring attention to Testimonium, the band is offering up its contribution to the project via Testimonium Songs.
Given the nature of Testimonium Songs’ inspiration, the album lacks cohesion, due in large part to it missing two-thirds of Testimonium’s whole, but also due to Kinsella working within rigid confines as opposed to him freely chasing his muse. He’s always paired himself with talented musicians, and although Testimonium Songs is well performed, it rarely feels like the band is in control of its work. Joan Of Arc has always been at its best when it balances its freeform experimentation with pointed performances, but the album rarely finds the band striking that balance.
Energetic acoustic opener “Amelia” is the album’s strongest track, and while it’s fairly conventional in structure, it’s punctuated with Kinsella’s off-kilter leanings, showing just how well this experiment could have gone. Given Joan Of Arc’s variance in sound and approach, it’s somewhat characteristic for its albums to feel disjointed, but Testimonium Songs lacks the connective tissue to comfortably link these pursuits. “Jury Duty,” the album’s a cappella closer, is immediately charming, but wears thin by its end, and the 13-minute experiment “The Bird’s Nest Wrapped Around The Security Camera” suffers from the opposite problem, where it doesn’t begin to hint at its potential until the end.
The glaring issue that underlies Testimonium Songs is that it was made to accompany a performance piece, and without the visual, the album feels half-formed. There is a discernable narrative arc to the songs (aided by detailed, yet puzzling-in-their-own-right liner notes), but each moment begs to be expounded upon. By the album’s end, there’s no definable takeaway aside from the fact that Testimonium Songs would have benefited from being a true Joan Of Arc record as opposed to a small piece of a larger puzzle.