Amen Dunes’ Hypnotic Stunner ‘Freedom’ Is One Of The Year’s Best Indie Rock Records

Cultural Critic
03.28.18 2 Comments

Michael Schmelling

The RX is Uproxx Music’s stamp of approval for the best albums, songs, and music stories throughout the year. Inclusion in this category is the highest distinction we can bestow, and signals the most important music being released throughout the year. The RX is the music you need, right now.

At the turn of the 20th century, ambitious young artists were obsessed with sequestering themselves until they produced the Great American Novel. One hundred years later, the focus for hungry strivers had shifted to the Great American Indie Rock Album.

In 2006, around the time that Justin Vernon squirreled away to the mythical cabin in northern Wisconsin that produced Bon Iver’s landmark debut For Emma, Forever Ago, Damon McMahon was in the Catskills recording his first album as Amen Dunes. As McMahon recalled almost a decade later, he had retreated to upstate New York after putting out an album styled in the mode of his boyhood classic-rock heroes: Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and The Band. “I didn’t know what my own voice was, so I would just imitate what I liked, I think,” he told Interview magazine in 2014. Apparently, critics noticed how derivative his album was at the time, as “the media trashed the shit out of it, said I sucked terribly. I was like, ‘I never want to be in New York City again.’”

As Amen Dunes, McMahon deliberately played down the bravado of his influences, instead favoring a dreamier, more shambolic approach that was classified as freak folk, even though his music wasn’t especially freaky or folky. It was just introverted to the extreme, made without thought or concern for the outside world, like an internal monologue composed of wandering half-thoughts and inscrutable references.

Over the years, McMahon has sidled closer to making something grander and more accessible. His songs grew tighter and more conventionally beautiful, and his persona less enigmatic. He described his 2014 LP Love as “my Astral Weeks,” alluding to Van Morrison’s intensely spiritual jazzy-folk masterpiece, a sign that McMahon was once again comfortable nodding at FM-radio greats. But Astral Weeks wasn’t Morrison’s commercial breakthrough — his next album, Moondance, is the one that became a makeout classic.

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