Amen Dunes’ Damon McMahon has responded to fresh criticism of comments he made in an interview four years ago, explaining that his reluctance to work with women is related to sexual abuse two adult women inflicted on him throughout his adolescence. More »
The Rolling Stones did not release any music in 2018. Their last album of original material, A Bigger Bang, came out way back in 2005. More recently, they released an album of blues covers called Blue & Lonesome, just over two years ago. They are coming back Stateside for a tour next year, and between … More »
When someone says they want to show you a piece of Old New York, there are certain locations you might imagine. Maybe a far-flung corner of Brooklyn or Queens, less touched by waves of gentrification. Perhaps one street hidden away in the long-lost stretches of the Lower East Side, still openly marked by all the … More »
Forget that nonsense about hibernating this winter — there are SHOWS to see (for those of you in year-round warm climates, well then you really have no excuse, do you?). One choice among the multitudes of great stuff out there is Amen Dunes, who will be kicking off January and a liiiiiiitle bit of February with a tour across the States. Tickets go on sale November 9.
In addition, a deluxe version of the critically-lauded Freedom will become available November 30 from Sacred Bones. It collects four live tracks from the European leg of the tour recorded in Prague, Brighton, and Vienna – all places that get hella cold in the winter. Keep warm while you’re waiting by watching Amen Dunes (a.k.a. Damon McMahon) on KEXP — and get those mittens and scarves ready:
Amen Dunes on tour:
01.10.18 – San Francisco, CA – August Hall
01.11.18 – Los Angeles, CA – Teragram Ballroom
01.12.18 – San Diego, CA – Belly Up
01.14.18 – Phoenix, AZ – Crescent Ballroom
01.17.18 – Dallas, TX – Deep Ellum Art Co.
01.18.18 – Houston, TX – Rockefeller Hall
01.19.18 – New Orleans, LA – One Eyed Jacks
01.21.18 – Orlando, FL – The Social
01.23.18 – Atlanta, GA – Terminal West
01.24.18 – Nashville, TN – Basement East
01.26.18 – Asheville, NC – Mothlight
01.27.18 – Durham, NC – Motorco
01.28.18 – Richmond, VA – The Broadberry
01.30.18 – Philadelphia, PA – Union Transfer
01.31.18 – Washington, DC – 9:30 Club
02.01.18 – New York, NY – Warsaw
Damon McMahon’s folk-rock project Amen Dunes released its first album in four years, Freedom, a few months back, and today the early single “Believe” has gotten a music video to go along with it. It was directed by Steven Brahms and takes on the same rambling, memory-laden quality as his music, running through … More »
[Sacred Bones; 2018]
Who is music for? Is it for the artist or the listener? And who is the artist?
Recently, albums dealing with the experience of grief — in particular, Mount Eerie, but also, for example, Japanese Breakfast — have been prominent on the cultural landscape. As Damon McMahon (Amen Dunes) began recording Freedom, his mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. As such, the critic notes with apprehension that bringing to bear a critical lens becomes a morally fraught task.
But Freedom also explores the darkness and difficulties of other aspects of toxicity and loss. For the most part, these songs aren’t associated with sexual or romantic relationships, and it’s refreshing for the “you” not to always be the romantic Other — like a cool, clear wave washing over the listener.
Rather, McMahon explores his difficulty with his father, an abusive past, and fictional vignettes of masculinity in the age of #MeToo. However, the latter isn’t achieved through any overtly political lens, because for McMahon, the personal is the only thing that’s political. Women in these songs feature solely as “foils.” Like Alex Cameron, Kirin J Callinan, or Nick Cave, even with the best intentions there’s an unclear slippage between exploration of toxic masculinity through the possibly-impersonal cameo and its actual manifestation.
Most important for Freedom, however, is McMahon’s desire to “let go of ideas of who you are.” Each song is a self that slips away like a shed skin. But the problem with letting things go is that you can end up with a vacancy. During the album’s development process, McMahon relinquished his initial conception that the album be shaped around facets of his identity. In its lyrical content, though, that is still what is laid before us — “a series of identities of mine.” The artist has achieved his own goal, but it may have the flavor of an own-goal.
He’s also pulled off a trick that the press tends to admire, one perhaps best practiced by Scritti Politti — an underground act taking on a more accessible mainstream sound mid-career, which is read as a demonstration of maturity. When you hear the line in “Believe,” “I can feel it in the air tonight,” it’s hard to know whether or not it’s a sly Phil Collins nod. As McMahon puts it, “Mainstream music was what I was interested in — really, really good mainstream music.” Or to put it another way (because, as good Freudians, we all know what mainstream music is really about), “One of my intentions with this record was nothing deeper than to make people feel sexy, to be honest.”
That’s not to imply that this newfound accessibility is a cynical move — it is clearly anything but. Freedom is not a “challenging” listen, but choruses or hummable melodies are few; rather, the album progresses at a loping, steady pace, as if somehow delivered by natural rhythm. And indeed, McMahon experiences his work as coming to and through him, rather than being created in any laborious or even conscious way. The album samples the words of conceptual artist Agnes Martin, spoken by McMahon’s mother: “I just wait for the muse to present itself and then I abide. I don’t have any ideas myself, I’m a vacant mind.” The listener may ask: why use a quote, if the music could instead embody its spirit? In that move, in negotiating the fine line between authenticity and being an arrogant, over-sincere “dick,” is an actual profundity lost?
And it’s here we come to the concept of religious music, of that miraculous place where (Collins-esque) gated drums meet pearly gates. On the one hand, the emptiness of self that McMahon explores is very much in line with the Dharmic religions (as on “Believe,” a standout track — “I’ll see you next go around”). On the other, though, the shadow of Christianity hangs heavy over Freedom: Jesus, Mary, the Devil, Paul — his father, as well as the father of institutionalizing that religion — are all mentioned; even Roman soldiers get a burl. The Hollywood hills become Judea, while suffering is constant throughout — and, yet, perhaps, redemptive. We’re gonna have “a spiritual good time” (“Dracula”).
“Good time” isn’t a term likely to be applied to Amen Dunes’s remarkable earlier oeuvre, and inasmuch as Freedom is not as dark, as gnarly, or as weird as those albums were, it suffers for it. The vocals are often low in the mix, which is a shame, but it creates a mumblecore naturalism that is also freedom of a sort. Synthesizers join or replace the folky guitars of his previous albums, and tracks meld together in memory over the course of the work. “Miki Dora,” featuring the album’s strongest melody, chugs along at a sweet Velvet Underground pace, but it’s let down by somewhat bathetic lyrics (“Sitting on the pier / Sipping on my beer”). But that beautiful little bleat, that tug in McMahon’s voice that’s a low-key and unconscious proclamation of his identifiable identity, remains.
So whitherto male beauty, the man who is both sensitive and macho? According to McMahon, male ego is at the root of society’s problems, and in the album’s other sample, an aggro speech from sports film Miracle is transmuted into a child’s voice, its competitive tribalism thereby dissolved. McMahon’s frequent use of the word “man” (is his name aptly ironic?) — both in Freedom’s lyrics and in interviews — has been noted elsewhere.
So a neutral guy will “go with thee, and be thy guide.” The cover image, of McMahon’s own stubbled face and torso clad in generic polo, is generic but also classical, intended as a making visible of the self and a letting it go. But as it turns out, to forget the self is to remember the self: “with all the focus on me with this release, I got a little more embedded in myself.”
Hey, in case you didn’t hear, the newest Amen Dunes album Freedom (which just came out on Sacred Bones) is all about Amen Dunes (a.k.a. Damon McMahon) — but despite the various sides to the NYC musician that get presented in a newly accessible and consciously pop-ish way, he’s also adamant that none of those autobiographical impressions matter a goddamn lick. McMahon has expressed (at least in interviews) a general antipathy toward obsessions over who one supposedly “is” based on life experience and/or trauma.
Given these lucid conceptions of “identity” and “self,” I guess we’re technically lacking REAL CERTAINTY that Amen Dunes is actually going on the extensive tour that he recently announced in support of Freedom. I mean, who’s to say?! In the past few days, things could have escalated from McMahon disregarding identity concerns to…McMahon becoming spiritually disembodied and wandering about the Earth inhabiting various inanimate objects at various times!
…Oh my god, did that trash can just try to correct me??!
Wait…yes! The nearby trashcan literally just opened its lid in a manner mirroring the human mouth and said: “The trash can life is better than you think it is.” Then, he proceeded to ASSURE me that the upcoming Amen Dunes tour is going on as scheduled — and that McMahon will temporarily abandon his vagabonding soul in order to perform in his traditional human body.
So yeah, it seems Amen Dunes’ll be traveling internationally using normal human means after all, and Fleet Foxes is alongside on several of the bills! I don’t know about you, but I’m relieved.
Amen Dunes as a human dates:
04.10.18 – Eugene, OR – McDonald Theatre *
04.11.18 – Sacramento, CA – Crest Theatre *
04.12.18 – San Pedro, CA – Warner Grand *
04.14.18 – Marfa, TX – Marfa Myths
04.15.18 – San Diego, CA – Humphreys Concerts By The Bay *
04.17.18 – Pomona, CA – Fox Pomona *
04.18.18 – San Luis Obispo, CA – Madonna Expo Center *
04.20.18 – Berkeley, CA – Greek Theatre *
04.23.18 – Berlin, Germany – Privatclub
04.24.18 – Hamburg, Germany – Goldener Salon
04.25.18 – Copenhagen, Denmark – Hotel Cecil
04.27.18 – Brussels, Belgium – Grand Salon Boutique
04.28.18 – Paris, France – Badaboum
04.30.18 – Brighton, UK – Prince Albert
05.01.18 – Leeds, UK – Headrow House
05.02.18 – London, UK – Omeara
05.07.18 – Houston, TX – Revention Music Center *
05.08.18 – San Antonio, TX – The Tobin Center *
05.10.18 – El Paso, TX – Abraham Chavez Theatre *
05.12.18 – Albuquerque, NM – Sunshine Theater *
05.14.18 – Tulsa, OK – Cain’s Ballroom *
05.15.18 – St Louis, MO – Peabody Opera House *
05.17.18 – Pittsburgh, PA – Benedum Center for The Performing Arts *
05.18.18 – Washington, DC – Anthem *
05.19.18 – Columbus, OH – Express Live *
05.21.18 – Nashville, TN – The Ryman *
05.22.18 – Nashville, TN – The Ryman *
05.23.18 – Louisville, KY – Iroquois Amphitheater *
05.24.18 – Indianapolis, IN – The Murat Theatre *
05.26.18 – South Burlington, VT – The Green at Shelburne Museum *
06.07-09.18 – Porto, Portugal – Primavera
06.14-17.18 – Dover, DE – Firefly Festival
06.23.18 – Brooklyn, NY – Brooklyn Steel *
08.09.18 – Los Angeles, CA – The Troubadour *
08.10-12.18 – San Francisco, CA – Outside Lands *
08.13.18 – Seattle, WA – The Crocodile *
08.14.18 – Vancouver, BC – Fox Cabaret *
08.15.18 – Portland, OR – Doug Fir Lounge *
08.17.18 – Salt Lake City, UT – Urban Lounge *
08.18.18 – Denver, CO – Globe Hall *
08.20.18 – Minneapolis, MN – 7th St. Entry *
08.21.18 – Chicago, IL – Lincoln Hall *
08.23.18 – Toronto, ON – Horseshoe Tavern *
08.24.18 – Montreal, QC – Bar Le Ritz *
08.26.18 – Boston, MA – The Sinclair *
08.30.18 – Dorset, UK – End of the Road Festival
09.06-09.18 – Portmeirion, UK – Festival No. 6
* Fleet Foxes
Outside Lands has revealed the 2018 lineup for its 11th installment in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park August 10-12.
Following a fervent 2017 edition of Gorillaz, The Who, and Metallica headlining, 2018 boasts a hefty onslaught of acts, and although the headliners see earlier appearances in the festival season — The Weeknd at Coachella and Janet Jackson at both Panorama and FYF Fest — the lineup remains rife with talent and excitement.
The Weeknd is set to perform, where he’s likely to play out his recent slew of new material which features the aid of Nicolas Jaar, Daft Punk‘s Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, and Gesaffelstein. Both Florence + The Machine and Janet Jackson front the bill with performances that will be nothing less than excellent and the lineup also promises a plethora of beloved dance acts. From ODESZA, Chromeo, and Claptone, to DJ Snake, Jamie xx, Tycho, CHVRCHES, James Blake, Gryffin, Lauv, and Whethan, Outside Lands is a music lover’s oeuvre in its late-summer installment.
More information and tickets, which are available starting at 10 a.m. PST April 5, can be found here.
New York’s Amen Dunes are finally about to return with Freedom, their first full-length in almost four years. It’s the long-awaited followup to 2014’s Love — an album that engendered a fervent cult following — and the group has already given fans a few reasons to expect that Freedom could live up the long … More »
Damon McMahon, the New York-based musician who records as Amen Dunes, is about to release his sixth album of searching, fire-eyed psych rock. The new LP Freedom features production from Beach House collaborator Chris Coady and contributions from peers like Nick Zinner and Delicate Steve, and we’ve already posted the videos for the early singles … More »