Amen Dunes: Love Review
There is a certain level of dissonance that I love in my pop music. If you can wrap a layer of haze around a rich melody, tweak a lead instrument in an interesting way or take me down an unexpected path with your song structures, you’ve got me wrapped around your finger. While I have been a fan of Amen Dunes (the nom de plume of Damon McMahon) over the last few years, his new LP Love caught me off guard with how well it captures this spirit. Mixing a touch of damaged folk with a splash of scruffy psychedelica, all tied together by McMahon’s immaculate songwriting and captivating singing, it is one of the very best albums I have heard all year.
From the opening moments of the album there is a feeling of cacophonous warmth that only builds over the course of the LP, creating one of the most engaging records to come out this year. Opener “White Child” rides a ragged melody led by languid acoustic guitars and a hymnal-like rhythm section, a wide-eyed feeling that lasts all 11 songs, right up until the woozy, piano balled title track that closes the LP.
In between, he ventures into different corners of the genre, but his pristine songwriting comes out seemingly unscathed by the rough path it rumbles over. On “Lonely Richard,” he uses Velvet Underground-esqe wobbly strings to disorient an otherwise gem of a pop song, while the left-field stomper “I Can’t Dig” is an especially startling surprise when it bursts through the speakers near the end of the album.
The album is especially powerful at its stripped down, minimalist core. “Everybody is Crazy” is a spaced-out lullaby, while “Green Eyes” lugs forward under a laborious folk-kraut piano melody. Songs like “Rocket Flare” & “I Know Myself” should intrigue fans of the suddenly de jour haze-pop sound of bands like Kurt Vile and The War on Drugs. Mixing gentle acoustic singer/songwriter with smooth, atmospheric feel, they both feature the kind of off-kilter pop sensibilities that would make Yo La Tengo proud.
McMahon has said publically said that the title of the album is also the theme of the record, and you can hear it coursing through each listen. This is an album that is as simple and powerful as it is heartfelt and obtuse. It is the most straightforward release under the Amen Dunes catalog, and the most profound. It is a record that floats and wanders, but never gets lost, a record that was as engaging on the first listen as it has been on the dozens of spins since.
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