Death Jokes by Amen Dunes album review Tuhin Chakrabarti for Northern Transmissions


Death Jokes

Amen Dunes

Damon McMahon’s artistic journey since the release of his career-defining masterpiece “Freedom” has been nothing short of enigmatic. Six years after the euphoric heights of “Freedom,” McMahon presents a restless follow-up, a product of relentless creative fervor and profound disquiet. Emerging from a tumultuous creative process fraught with illness and pandemic-induced uncertainty, “Death Jokes” represents McMahon’s fearless foray and shriveling anxiety. Departing from the warm embrace of chamber pop, McMahon embraces the disjointed temptations of industrial electronic music, crafting a complex digital mosaic of avant- garde electro-folk.

Sweeping classic guitars yield to collaged electronic samples and distorted vocal garble, showing a mirror to our chaotic, 24/7 digital stream that we call a world. McMahon’s hodgepodge unfolds with haunting elegance, as mangled electronics collide with murky guitars and virtuosic piano compositions. The tracks build from sparse beginnings, gradually expanding into a cacophony of noise, with random samples of protest chants and other archival recordings. There’s an interesting moment at the end of “I Don’t Mind” where the song seamlessly breaks down into Indian carnatic singing, a production trick that demonstrates his technical genius.

What McMahon offers under the moniker of Amen Dunes is a neurotic grapple with a fragmented past self, trying to recover a corrupted file, or shuffling through a dusty crate of broken tapes and scratched CDs. Indeed, McMahon concurs that it was born out of the unexpressed musical influences of his youth, from electronic raves to the flowering indie hip hop scenes of his halcyon age. What renders is something less coherent — It feels like the plethora of unfinished projects we all have laying around from the quarantine, a clumsy re-solidification after musing through the years. It is weightless, unburdened by familiar song structure and returning to lucidity only when needed.

“What I Want,” creeps in as reflective balladry. McMahon’s vocals, warbling and garbled, serve as a haunting reminder of the relentless pursuit of fulfillment amidst the chaos of life’s challenges. Against the backdrop of McMahon’s personal struggles – from his disclosure of past trauma to grappling with the effects of long COVID and the weight of newfound fatherhood – “What I Want” takes on added depth, embodying the internal conflict of a soul constantly in motion. “I always spend my life here running around,” he croons As the industrial, washing-machine-like percussion envelops the listener, McMahon’s vocals become a guiding thread, navigating the intricate layers of sound with a seeking air. Despite the initial impression that “Death Jokes” may signal a regression to McMahon’s earlier, more uneven musical endeavors, “What I Want” defies expectations, offering a poignant glimpse into the artist’s ongoing evolution amidst adversity.

Amen Dunes is back after a long break, and what he lays is bare, authentic electro-folk with a very caucasian interpretation of trip-hop that he gluts the music with. It’s very stop-start, mimicking life’s tendency to be non linear and break you in unexpected ways. Like an unexpected bolt from the blue, “Death Jokes” materialized, signaling a seismic departure from McMahon’s prior endeavors. If “Freedom” represented a bold foray into sonic exploration, “Death Jokes” stands as its schizophrenic counterpart, a swirling car-crash of genre and anxieties.

Perhaps, then, “Death Jokes” is not a step backwards or forwards, but a omnidirectional leap into the unknown. McMahon’s enigmatic sensibility has always defied easy categorization. In the end, whether you view “Death Jokes” as a masterpiece or a mess is beside the point. What matters is that it exists – a bold, audacious statement from one of US indie’s most unusual talents. As McMahon disappears once more into the ether, one can only ponder.

Order Death Joes by Amen Dunes HERE


Looking for something new to listen to?

Sign up to our all-new newsletter for top-notch reviews, news, videos and playlists.