There’s no better genre descriptor for NYC musician Amen Dunes than “experimental rock”. On Friday night, the singer gave the Teragram Ballroom a heavy dose of unconventional tunes, leaving the downtown LA crowd stunned.
I wasn’t too familiar with his work — props to Pitch Perfect publicist Ahmad Asani for bringing him to my attention. I gave last year’s record Freedom a listen all the way through and couldn’t find a weak track among the bunch.
Amen Dunes is the solo project of Damon McMahon. Though he tours with a band he comes up with all the music on his own, utilizing different musicians in the studio throughout the process. He kind of has a Lou Reed / Velvet Underground vibe to some of his work, particularly the song he opened the show with, “Satudarah”. It features a catchy guitar riff while featuring McMahon’s deep almost Ed Kowalczyk of LiVE vocals.
One thing that kept surprising me was how so many of the songs would start out with limited instrumentation, and the a few minutes later I would be blown away with the layers and textures created on stage.
“Blue Rose” was another Velvet Underground-y song with a heavy bass groove. McMahon spoke-sings similarly to how Michael Stipe did in a lot of R.E.M. songs.
Amen Dunes tunes are the kind of thing you listen to in the desert when you’re starting to trip on psychedelics. Some of the songs build the way Explosions in the Sky’s best work does, but features McMahon’s unique vocals float over the top. The layers sneak up on you.
One of the highlights came at the start of the encore. McMahon sang a cover of Tim Buckley classic “Song To The Siren” — one of my favorite songs of all-time. McMahon’s version was more of an homage to the This Mortal Coil version, with his own twist. The crowd was completely silent and I swear it got a bit dusty in there for me personally. I went home and listened to that version (and the This Mortal Coil one too) at least 20 times over the next few days.
He closed with “Miki Dora”, what I would consider his biggest “banger” in his repertoire. It’s got a very rockin’ but understated tempo to it, but again, by the end of it a lot is happening. The crowd danced to that one and was sad when the show came to an end.
Five albums in and Amen Dunes is crafting some truly unique indie rock. There’s something about that voice, for sure. Watch his cover of “Song To The Siren” below.
Words by Mark Ortega