Posted by: Necci – May 17, 2012
“There’s a world where I can go and tell my secrets to,” sang a half-deaf Brian Wilson and his brothers from the beach on 1963’s classic, “In My Room.” The bedroom as a place of solace, myth-building and creation may be an underexplored concept in music, but it’s through no fault of Amen Dunes.
Speaking to RevoltoftheApes.com earlier in the year, Damon McMahon – the soul and sole constant member of Amen Dunes – said he chose the title Through Donkey Jaw for his latest album because he “thought this would be a good title for an album of more sincere songs, ones that were more directly biographical. Also, I felt a metaphorical kinship with the mule – ha!”
As direct and biographical as the origins of McMahon’s missives may be on Through Donkey Jaw, the listener is likely to find the songs of limited jackass-ery, though tunes that are wrapped in a sometimes casual, often caustic cosmos of sound. “McMahon catches your brain by inspecting his own,” declared Pitchfork's Marc Masters upon the album’s release. “Think of Through Donkey Jaw as an out sound from deep within.”
Nowhere does the “deep within” sound of Amen Dunes reveal itself any more memorably than on album opener “Baba Yaga.” It’s a brilliant song, unfolding in such a slow and dramatic fashion as to recall an invocation of some sort. Yet the lyrics point to something more tangible than tantric – sings McMahon, “You say I’m negative, but you know that it’s all made up.”
“The title was just a convenience, but the lyrics were more directly related,” he says, before adding, “I can’t say too much comfortably about what this song is about, but it is a cathartic hate song. A lot of my songs are, but particularly this one.
"I think it sounds spiritual because it’s cathartic, but the origins are not spiritual at all. I was living on 18th Street [in NYC] that summer, in a very bad cycle of things, and kind of consumed by a negative environment and kind of scary people and habits. Now that I think back and remember, it was partially a confessional, on my negativity – ‘eager in my den’ – and at the same time hinting that a song could be some kind of redemption from that – ‘a song is a sign, let it be soft.’”
McMahon’s hissing of the words “eager in my den” may feel quite distant from the sweet chimes of the Beach Boys’ “In My Room,” though we suspect anybody tortured by their father in the way that Brian Wilson suffered can understand the motivations of a cathartic hate song. Of “In My Room,” Wilson once commented, "I had a room, and I thought of it as my kingdom... you're not afraid when you're in your room. "
There is fearlessness in the slow reveal of Amen Dunes’ music as well, the allure and antipathetic power of being alone with our thoughts – our darkest thoughts – when alone in our room. Consider another Donkey Jaw track, appropriately named “Bedroom Drum.”
On initial pass, “Bedroom Drum” may feel only slightly less together and chirpy than “In My Room” itself – if Brian Wilson had grown up listening to The Velvet Underground and The Byrds. But there’s a darkness behind the jangle, a bedroom filled with dark, dark thoughts.
“I definitely channel rage into the music of Amen Dunes,” says McMahon, without equivocation. “In fact, that’s 99% of the influence for Amen Dunes.”
No stranger to rage and subversion, David Crosby once said that Brian Wilson’s gift is the ability “to turn powerful emotions and terrible tragedy into life-affirming art that helps and heals.”
It’s a description that fits snugly on Amen Dunes as well. It’s dark and we’re alone, Through Donkey Jaw seems to say, buried somewhere deep within the shadow-side of “In My Room" some fifty years later. But we won’t be afraid.
Amen Dunes will perform live at Strange Matter, located at 929 W. Grace St., on Saturday, May 19. Also on the bill are White Laces, Canary Oh Canary, and The Snowy Owls. Doors open at 10 PM. Admission is $9 in advance, $12 at the door. Advance tickets can be ordered HERE. For more information, click HERE.
By Ryan Muldoon (revoltoftheapes.com)
Live Photo by Jake Reinhart