“Love” might be a little strong. “Like”? Maybe. Sad truth is that Amen Dunes’ new album isn’t really easy to get attached to. It’s pleasant enough, but never gets very far beyond “inoffensive.”
Love – to put it bluntly – is competent, intelligently written background music.
An awful lot of the blame for that can be placed firmly on the album’s vocals. Amen Dunes founder and driving force Damon McMahon’s lyrics are a frustrating tangle. They seem sharp and have won praise from other reviewers, but there’s no getting around one very simple issue: they’re incomprehensible. McMahon’s default drone is easy on the ears, but makes it extremely difficult to figure out exactly what’s going on. Also complicating the matter is the overuse of an echoing effect that makes McMahon sound like he’s singing in an empty hangar. Think Wayne Coyne on the muddier songs from The Soft Bulletin days – both in terms of pitch and production. But Coyne’s voice was clear enough to bust through that extra layer, and he had the good sense not to stick it on every song.
The instruments are a cheerier story. Acoustic, folk-inspired guitars dominate the first half of the album. Intelligent additions like the horns that close out opener “White Child” and the clicking percussion on “Lilac in Hand” add some texture. However, that texture is still stubbornly obscured by a mediocre vocal component. Overlong runtimes don’t help either, as pieces that might have scraped by wind up sinking into monotony.
Things mercifully get a little more diverse near the middle of the album. “Rocket Flare” brings some much-needed energy to the album, as does the musing, uptempo pace of “I Know Myself.” They’re not enough to keep Love from being anything but a snoozer, but they’re worth a listen on their own. And then it’s back to the grind – Love goes out with a yawn. The title track wraps things up. It might be witty, it might be brilliant, but it’s also muffled and eight-and-a-half-minutes long.