DEPRESSION KILLS. CULT folksinger Nick Drake died in 1974 at age 26 from an accidental overdose of anti-depressants. Seattle-based urban singer-songwriter Damien Jurado was headed down the same self-destructive path when he suffered a nervous breakdown last year, until prescription antidepressants saved his sanity and rejuvenated his bold, melancholy songwriting adeptness.
Thankfully, Jurado recovered before he became a too-young-to-die rock'n'roll casualty. Rest assured, he has not become a certifiable loon like genius pop savant Daniel Johnston. He does, however, write depressive, observational songs of the fragile human spirit with as much honesty, pain and uncertainty as those mentally unbalanced folk-pop troubadours Johnston and Drake did. His consistently brooding approach approximates a younger version of Leonard Cohen, his unflinching, caustic lyrics often eerily filtered through the introspective and understated fragility of Drake's ghostly psyche.
The stripped-down home recordings on his third album for Sub Pop showcase a morbidly beautiful assortment of songs confronting death, failure and serious cerebral malfunction. Think of the mourning of "Tonight's The Night"-era Neil Young as a river of sadness and morose eloquence overwhelming the senses.
Jurado lumbers into the proceedings with "Medication," an enormously distressing monologue in which the narrator (who is having an affair with the wife of a cop) wishes his mentally collapsing brother would die.
Beyond his vacant-sounding voice, occasional piano and minimal, sometimes out-of-tune acoustic guitar, Jurado sustains the anti-pop arrangements by keeping them straightforward and honest. The ethereal otherworldliness of "December," boasting tape loops and a creepy multitracked vocal that echoes the ambient wizardry of Brian Eno, is perfectly engaging and thoroughly depressing.
The trauma resulting from ingesting daily medications is brutally acknowledged on the screaming, agitated "Paxil," an autobiographical rant boasting distorted double-tracked vocals condemning his daily trips to the bathroom medicine cabinet.
If you're looking for some festive holiday cheer, the bleak, confessional manner of Damien Jurado is not the answer. But if you want to hear a blossoming talent expose his tender, naked soul and skillfully confront his haunting psychological demons, Ghost of David is recommended listening. Also don't forget to hide the razor blades and have the Prozac handy.
Damien Jurado performs with Chris Mills and Songs: Ohia at Solar Culture, 31 E. Toole Ave., Friday, December 1 at 9 p.m. Tickets are $5 at the door.