Amen Dunes – Love Album Review

Amen Dunes releases his latest album, Love, today via Sacred Bones.

The new album is McMahon’s most focused and ambitious work yet. Amen Dunes has always been rooted in traditional song and sound but Love is his first work in which this so clearly shines through. The guiding influence of Astral Weeks, Sam Cooke, Tim Hardin, Marvin Gaye, Hector Lavoe and the cosmic non-verbal mediations of Leon Thomas, all kept vigil over the song writing of Love and the spirit of late 60’s/early 70’s spiritual jazz of Pharaoh Sanders and Alice Coltrane channelled the sound. These are elemental songs about time, love and memory as much about the listener as they are about the writer: pure, open and beautiful.

Amen Dunes

Amen Dunes

Where the previous Amen Dunes records – D.I.A. (Locust Music, 2009), Murder Dull Mind EP (Sacred Bones, July 2010) and Through Donkey Jaw (Sacred Bones, August 2011) — had all been largely improvisational first-take affairs recorded in a matter of weeks at most, Love is the product of close to a year and a half of continuous work. As McMahon began to flesh out the new material, he found himself guided by the aforementioned work of classic American singers and songs more strongly than on any previous Amen Dunes record. And unlike the earlier recordings of McMahon’s, which were almost always a solo affair, the music on Love was performed by a variety of musicians, centred around the core trio and symbiotic interplay of McMahon and his long-standing collaborators, Jordi Wheeler (guitar and piano) and Parker Kindred (drums).

Eager to capture a musical feeling outside the confines of New York City, McMahon chose to hold the main recording sessions in Montreal with Dave Bryant and Efrim Menuck of Godspeed You! Black Emperor. In addition to recording the sessions that McMahon produced, members of Godspeed also played on several of the songs along with Colin Stetson on saxophone and several other Montreal musicians. The remainder of the recordings took place back in Brooklyn at Strange Weather and Trout Recording and featured additional performances by a handful of musicians including Elias Bender Ronnenfelt of Iceage and Vår who duets with McMahon on Green Eyes and is featured on first single, Lonely Richard.

White Child is the introductory track to the sound of this record. There are a blend of influences including folk, rock and Blues. The vocals are scratchy and slightly untuneful but they somehow make this song what it is. White Child features a repetitive droning sound in the background making it atmospheric and solemn. The acoustic guitar has a very raw sound to it allowing this song to sound like it’s been recorded in someone’s bedroom on a whim. The music is simple, the song is simple; it’s captivating. This song sets the tone for the rest of the record.

Splits Are Parted is a dramatic, acoustic and atmospheric track with electronics helping to add the soundscape style. The whole track sounds distant, like a far-away, pleasant noise. Vocally, this song is quite experimental showing off McMahon’s strong vocals. They are unusual and unique – vocals that definitely stand out among the crowd. There’s a sense of desperation in his voice when he sings, “Oh I could love you/I could make it easy” which draws the listener in.

Sixteen is steps away from the heavy acoustic guitar used throughout the previous tracks and starts to lean the album towards the use of the piano. Sixteen is more uplifting; it has a fresher sound. This track also allows the vocals to be heard clearly in comparison to the other tracks on the record. It’s an impressively simple and stylish track.

Rocket Flare introduces an entirely different feel to Love. There are Jeff Buckley inspired electric guitar riffs, a soulful melody runs throughout this track while the vocals feel soft and pleasant on the ears.

I Know Myself sounds like it could easily be a Cat Stevens track. Everything about this track makes it sound like it’s stepped straight out of the 70s. It’s soulful, slow and seductive, “It takes a lot babe/I know myself/After this time I’m going to someone else/Feel uncertain…”

Title track Love sees the piano take on a new solo piece with world influences being heard in the drumming. Love features deep drum beats which have a distinctly Indian, almost Tabla like, style. Love blends a mixture of unusual elements together to make a perfectly, peculiar track.

Previous singles Lonely Richard, Lilac In Hand and I Can’t Dig It also feature on this record.

Love is out today via Sacred Bones.

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