Amen Dunes, “I Can’t Dig It”

J. Edward Keyes

By J. Edward Keyes

on 04.17.14 in Listen to This

The previous records by Damon McMahon, who records as Amen Dunes, have been defined by a sense of both strangeness and mystery. McMahon seemed not so much like a singer as a medium, channeling voices from another realm in his eerie, pinched voice and situating them in songs that felt like it belonged to wholly different musical language than any found on earth. The apex of this approach was last year’s stunning, limited-run Ethio Songs 7″, in which McMahon theoretically “covered” songs from the legendary Ethiopiques series, but in reality just used the curling melodic structures of those songs as inspiration for his own uncanny imitations of the same. So it’s natural that, on the beautiful, forthcoming Love, he’d reposition. The album contains his most overtly beautiful and straightforward songs to date, and McMahon sounds more like a heartsick lute-bearing British minstrel than an intergalactic visitor. In that context, “I Can’t Dig It” is a bit of an outlier — the last vestige of the old, odd McMahon. But it’s a good one: a barrage of sawing guitar so smothered in distortion it scans as a long bar of sound; then, midway through, the song changes shape, and McMahon’s voice peals out like the bell in an old church steeple. It’s baleful and ominous all at once.