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.