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Amen Dunes – Death Jokes (Sub Pop)

I do love unpredictability in music. Damon McMahon, aka Amen Dunes, fits the bill perfectly on that count. You think this is going to be a continuation of the poppy rock that ran through his last album, 2018’s Freedom? Think again. With this one, McMahon has chosen to immerse himself in the music of his youth, at raves and nightclubs. Don’t let that mislead you though – a euphoric, bare chested hands in the air love-in it is not.

In fact, despite the apparent roots that Death Jokes is steeped in, there are, instead, a number of distinctly ‘not rave’ artists with whom the record can be compared, as wide ranging as Villagers, The Felice Brothers and even perhaps John Otway (on ‘Mary Anne‘, which, to some degree, put me in mind of the non-orchestral acoustic version of ‘Geneve’).

It kicks off with the title track, gentle piano jazz accompanied by a barely distinguishable American comedian complete with canned laughter. It seems rather like this is where we are meant to take the drugs, our senses getting discombobulated, with the effects of the pharmaceuticals starting to take effect. ‘Ian‘ then comes in like something off a Velvet Underground album and the one minute interlude of ‘Joyrider‘ drags us into the nightclub toilets, the throbbing bass from the room next door barely discernible. Then ‘What I Want‘ is as though Ian Felice has joined the party, the vocals here very much reflecting the early work of his former band.

Some tracks here are surprisingly fragile and beautiful, such as the pretty little midtempo ditty that is ‘Purple Land‘, McMahon assuring that “I’ll be seeing you when all this is done / I will see you through hellfire my little love.

Inarguably the centrepiece here though is the nine and a quarter minute opus that is ‘Round The World‘, seeming to pay homage to Brian Wilson at the outset, subtle yet emphatic strings soon lifting it to another planet, so otherworldly that you wonder if this is both the peak of the ‘trip’ and its comedown all rolled into one.

It might not be as immediate as Freedom was, but it is as striking as it is sometimes confusing, and one that demands several repeat listens, as you tend to pick up subtle intricacies every time you do. The whole album is like McMahon somehow climbed inside your head and recorded your dreams. It’s freakish but strangely addictive.


God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.