Those who lead their lives without the nagging reality check of cynicism have a tendency to “take the good with the bad.” They take snarls of Los Angeles traffic in exchange for the beaches. They take the splendor of New York in spite of the hostile crowds. With the ability to see the glow of virtue in even the darkest of circumstances, these lucky people might be able to enjoy it when Joan of Arc Presents Guitar Duets. Some of the album’s ten tracks will seem like a balmy day at the beach, but others make me feel as though I’m choking on smog on the packed 405.
The history of the collective entity known as Joan of Arc is as complex as some of the reasoning behind its music. Constantly evolving around an ever-changing cast of musicians, the name has always been more about concepts (and even concept albums) than concrete intentions. Which is fine. Unless your concept is to find a room, populate it with ten musicians who have played in Joan of Arc at some point in the past and make them draw a name out of a hat to determine their partner in a duet. The result of this not-so-hypothetical situation is an album that has several clumsy and poorly conceived tracks obscuring any of the delight of some of its better works.
Some of the highlights in these ten (untitled) instrumentals include the first song, played by Nate Kinsella and Record Label head Bobby Burg. Refreshing in its lack of sloppy attempts to “mess with the sound,” this track makes it hard to believe that so many dorm-room meanderings and knob-twiddling festivities will occur before Mike Kinsella and Ben Vida close the album about fifty minutes later. There are some sublime moments in between, but taking the good with the bad here is difficult.
Listening to Guitar Duets is like being trapped at an open-mike night with performers who all play one song and then cede the stage to someone with a completely different style. Not much here will keep the listener interested long enough for the next bit of good to diminish the bad.