Amen Dunes △ Love

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The 13th Floor Elevators’ Svengali Tommy Hall once remarked that his band formed what he termed a “third sound”; all the band’s instruments, playing in the right environment, with the right pharmaceuticals, would bleed together to create overtones that would be interpreted as being from another instrument altogether. Damon McMahon and his Amen Dunes project seem to have unconsciously run with this throughout their latest release Love, producing a dynamic work which benefits as much from studio trickery as songcraft. As a result, the final product creates a murky and hallucinatory listening experience saturated in lush production, drawn from disparate elements, and steeped in the droning repetition of collaborators Godspeed! You Black Emperor.

 

The group’s video for “Lilac in Hand” illustrates these elements best, visually showing the uncertain and flowing nature of the music – the viewer’s focus pans in and out from above to below, and forced perspective changes appear visually much like the overdriven sonic elements of the song itself. You can hear that McMahon has drawn from many sources, and is meticulous in what he chooses to include, but the offhand nature of the album’s performances show a performer who believes strongly in using off-the-cuff inspiration to inform a final product which is very much in the moment.

 

Opener “White Child” brings this disorientation into perspective – a piano playing slightly out of time gives way to a backing which builds in intensity throughout the song. Damon’s emphatic lyrical delivery, which calls to mind Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold, seems to dictate the ebb and flow of the backing, giving a live and improvisational feel to the recording. Track “Splits Are Parted” continues this trend, with a heavily treated backing track benefiting from simple repetition and cavernous reverb, alongside a spirited vocal and musical arrangement that recalls Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s “I See A Darkness”.  “I Know Myself”, based off of an acoustic guitar, opens up over the course of the song to include ghostly harmonies and percussive accompaniment, which all results in a slight R&B feel. On the other end of the spectrum, the closing title track “Love”, with its repeating musical phrase and variations thereof dropping in and out of the mix, can sonically draw comparisons like Brian Eno’s Discreet Music, or ideas previously used in Terry Riley and Steve Reich’s symphonic works.

 

Although the murkiness of the production at times obscures the directness of McMahon’s lyrics, these very same eerie textures produce a shadowy and meditative atmosphere, where, yes, Tommy Hall’s “third sound” is sometimes evoked. The emotion of the performances and dynamic of the production ensure that the final message comes through with a concise and accessible, yet obtuse work.

△ Words by Dave Sampson

Purchase Love via Sacred Bones.

 

Dog Gone Presents Amen Dunes along with Alex Calder, Wicked Witches and Milk Lines at The Silver Dollar in Toronto, Ontario on Monday, June 23rd. RSVP and ticket info can be found HERE.

 

Boozoo Bajou ∆ 4

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As a music journalist, I receive a rather large number of press releases and pitches from a countless number of publicists and PR agents. Over the years, I’ve learned to sift through the sheer mass of these releases, preferring only to pursue musics sent by those with both a curated focus and a discerning taste. Some of these folks are constantly at the cutting age of “21st century music,” and falling behind on the bands they are representing means falling behind on what is current and relevant to the most discerning, critical-minded listeners in today’s vast musical world.

 

If music was to follow the global changes that have taken place over the past 50-odd years, what “should” it sound like today? I sometimes feel like I’m behind the times, simply because I’m still listening to bands that use instruments, and have real people playing them. Walk into these avant-garde venues in the deepest and most subterranean rooms in Brooklyn and, these days, and you’ll typically find one person controlling an array of equipment that is only sold in stores that opened within the past 10-20 years. Stores that are completely foreign to me. Take the guitar store down the street from my apartment, for example. Years back, it was a guitar store and a used guitar store split in two. Now, the used side is gone and it’s been replaced by a “studio” department that sells everything from oscillators to monitors to samplers to stuff where I really don’t know what I’m talking about. It’s a far cry from the four-tracks and basic studio equipment that The Beatles revolutionized on Sgt Peppers, or the drum machines and flangers of the 70s and 80s.

 

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Review: Doug Paisley @ The Bell House, Brooklyn, NY 11/8/2011

Last night, I had the great pleasure of catching my acoustic hometown hero—Doug Paisley—at one of Brooklyn’s most intimate and welcoming venues. Sharing the bill with Bela Fleck’s significant other, Abigail Washburn, at Brooklyn’s Bell House, Paisley paired well, offering his sparse set of wanderer’s tales and minimalist guitar work to a crowd of attentive listeners. The Toronto native even commented at one point that it was eerie to hear silence of that sort in New York City. And though I had my fancy new DSLR on hand and intended to take it for its maiden voyage into the world of concert photography, I realized quickly that I could only shoot between songs as the shutter sound could be heard across the entire room. Pin drop type silence.

This was my second time seeing Paisley perform in almost as many months, having caught him on his recent tour with freak folk outfit Megafaun. I also hold the rare feat of having seen the guitarist perform to a crowd of no more than eight in a basement pub in London, Ontario—the same night I became a lifelong fan of his. Whether it’s eight or fifty, Paisley performs a similar set, combining his troubadour-like persona with nimble guitar lines that nod to a gentler-handed Garcia and classic country pickers like Doc Watson.

But what draws the crowd in to a level of attentiveness rarely seen at concerts in this city, are the songs. His 2010 release Constant Companion, was named “one of the finest singer-songwriter driven LPs of 2010” by Aquarium Drunkard and received high praise from countless others. The songs have a simple kind of sadness that tell of the journeys and hardships of the road, for example his cover of The Stanley Brother’s “The Fields Have Turned Brown,” which tells of a boy who leaves home to discover himself against his parent’s pleadings. Each song is delivered with Paisley’s authentic country-style vocal approach, sounding as though he was born to play this music for us. It makes us want to listen.

Living in New York, one has the ability to see great music almost every night of the year. So what is it about one man and a guitar that can make me travel half way across the city to hear him play? I asked myself that question while riding the F train over the Brooklyn Naval Yard, contemplating it until the moment the lights dimmed and that one man appeared on stage. It’s a realness we only find in the best and musicians who are truest to their craft. It’s a sense of integrity that makes an “opening slot” so much more and a life on the road a welcome reality for the performer. It’s a voice, a guitar, the right words and bringing them all together in a special way that very few can.

“Bat Song” (9/24/11)

You can download Doug Paisley’s recent performance opening for Megafaun at Mercury Lounge via NYC Taper.