Years ago Damon McMahon contributed a track to one of RSTB’s first free download compilations. At the time his debut, Dia was just released and it was a flickering window of static rimmed folk that played well with the lo-fi crowd that dotted an indie landscape. Years later he’s embarking on his most ambitious and stridently pop album yet and he’s back to contribute to Hidden Gems, an exploration of albums that haven’t necessarily gotten their due in the pantheon of pop. Damon’s chosen an album that’s often lauded for its single but forgotten as a whole piece. The La’s 1990 debut will always be known for “There She Goes,” but as an album it lies squarely on the fault lines between jangle and Britpop.
Talking with McMahon about the seminal record, he notes, ‘I don’t think there is a single record in pop or rock that is as extremely perfected and as unrecognized. Like all great albums, its themes are timeless and pure (pain, relief, God), its melodies so incredibly cathartic, moving and memorable, and its production such a balance between improvisation and studio perfection. The music is at once deeply emotional and aggressive. Closest thing I can compare to it is The Beatles and Bob Marley, who were both tough and sweet and melodic. Every instrument, including vocals, are like drum parts, so the whole things moves – the mixing, the sequencing, the closing track, their style, everything is seamless. Perfection.”
Exploring why such a seemingly well crafted record could slip from history’s view, noting, “I think many things came together to create a perfect disruptive mess (personal, business, timing) that delayed its release at least a few years. At that point they had lost momentum, lost hope, things just fell apart.” Naturally, if it’s slipped from view I wondered how it came to McMahon’s attention. “Divine intervention son,” he laughs. “I stumbled upon it somehow around 2002, and literally the same week a guy emailed me from the U.K. saying a friend had passed along my old band’s demo and that he was a manager from Liverpool, most notably of a band called the La’s. It doesn’t get more synchronized than that.”
So, have The La’s seeped into the cracks of Amen Dunes’ sound? “Absolutely,” notes Damon. “He (the band’s Lee Mavers) completely overcame me for about 3-4 years, and influenced me greatly. And I haven’t stopped listening, and admiring. Yet at the same time there is some inherent kinship between us musically and in sentiment, so I feel like the connection was inborn. Sometimes it just happens that way.”
I’ve always had a soft spot for this record myself, and as I noted before it always seems just on that bubble before Britpop broke, threatening some of its most trademark buoyancy, but rooting down in the college-rock leaning sounds of jangle-pop. That first single will always be the band’s legacy and, to some, extent its albatross, but as Damon makes the case here, the eponymous album is well worth more time on the turntable. Similarly Amen Dunes’ upcoming Freedom is an artist at his peak, pushing further into pop than ever before. Check out the video for “Blue Rose” below and definitely put it high on the wishlist for the year.