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Through Donkey Jaw

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Album Review

Most Sacred Bones releases state the year the album was recorded on the cover, but in the case of Amen Dunes' Through Donkey Jaw, the “recorded in 2011” is especially significant. Not only are these the first Amen Dunes songs recorded with a full-fledged band, they’re also the first proper recordings that Damon McMahon has made since he holed up in a Catskills cottage in 2006, laying down songs in private that eventually became Dunes’ debut album, DIA. Later, while living in Bejing, he made music only sporadically, issuing a handful of mostly acoustic tracks that were released as the Murder Dull Mind EP. Where DIA was a barely contained sprawl of ideas that ranged from full-on acid folk freakouts to eight-miles-high folk-pop and Murder Dull Mind was heavy on the folk and light on the freak, Through Donkey Jaw tempers these extremes and revels in Amen Dunes' newfound expansiveness. The album opens with two of its most impressive tracks: The witchy “Baba Yaga” feels like the perfect blend of McMahon's previous output, cloaked in reverb as it builds from subtle drones into violin squalls, while “Lower Mind”’s deeply trippy journey from delicate plucking to dark, towering rhythms and keyboards shows just how mercurial the full-band Amen Dunes can be. Elsewhere, McMahon turns in some of his most accessible songs yet: “Christopher,” with its hazy riffs and singsong melody, sounds like a more polished DIA track; “Good Bad Dreams” is so fey that it evokes Marc Bolan's hippy-dippy days; and “Sunday” and “Bedroom Drum”’s floating folk hint at McMahon's more intimate side. Yet for every song that suggests Amen Dunes have gone pop, there’s another that’s far darker and weirder than anything McMahon has previously committed to tape. The watery tones of “1985” give way to “Not a Slave”’s blobby keyboards, claustrophobic backing vocals, and drum assaults, while “Jill,” with its hard-edged electronics and nightmarish feel, hints at why Sacred Bones released this album. Through Donkey Jaw's bonus tracks save the weirdest for last, culminating with “Gem Head”’s guitar maelstroms and the ten-minute sound collage “Tomorrow Never Knows” (not a Beatles cover, but it shares the same transporting feel, times a thousand). Darker and in some ways more difficult than what came before it, Through Donkey Jaw shores up Amen Dunes' strengths and pushes forward at the same time.


Formed: 2006

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '00s, '10s

Amen Dunes is the project of Damon McMahon, whose mix of folk, psychedelia, and atmospherics has drawn comparisons to Roky Erickson, Syd Barrett, Chris Knox, Suicide, and Royal Trux. A Philadelphia native and a former member of Inouk, McMahon issued an album under his own name, Mansions, in 2006. Later that same year he began recording as Amen Dunes, sequestering himself in a cabin in the Catskills and laying down songs that he never intended to release publicly. He moved to Beijing in 2007 and recorded...
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Through Donkey Jaw, Amen Dunes
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