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Amen Dunes

The project of Damon McMahon, Amen Dunes unites folk, psych-rock, electronic, and industrial elements into an intuitive, searching whole. During his career, his music has drawn comparisons to artists as diverse as Roky Erickson, Syd Barrett, Chris Knox, Suicide, and Royal Trux, and shifted from the murky, lo-fi atmospheres of releases such as 2009's DIA to the spacious, hypnotic sound of 2014's Love. Even as his style grew to encompass the euphoric electronic leanings of 2018's Freedom and the dense, challenging societal critiques of 2024's Death Jokes, the timeless quality of his voice and the unflinchingly honest nature of his songwriting endured. A Philadelphia native and a former member of the indie band Inouk, McMahon issued an album under his own name, Mansions, in 2006. Later that year, he began recording as Amen Dunes, sequestering himself in a trailer in the Catskills and laying down largely improvised songs that he never intended to release publicly. He moved to Beijing in 2007 and recorded intermittently, honing a dark, acoustic-based sound. In 2009, Locust Music issued his Catskills sessions as DIA, and McMahon returned to the U.S., settling in New York. The following year, Amen Dunes made its debut on Sacred Bones with the Murder Dull Mind EP, a collection of songs from McMahon's time in China. Following July 2011's limited-edition cassette Rat on a Grecian Urn, Amen Dunes' first full-length for Sacred Bones, Through Donkey Jaw, appeared in August. Also the project's first album recorded with a full band, it featured some of McMahon's most accessible music to date. He then self-released 2012's EP Ethio Covers and 2013's The Spoiler, a set of challenging songs recorded from 2009 to 2011 that included a track dedicated to avant-garde composer Julius Eastman. McMahon took a different approach for May 2014's Love. Drawing on the end of a long-term relationship, its refined songcraft and cleaner sound were complemented by contributions from Iceage's Elias Bender Rønnenfelt, Bon Iver's Colin Stetson, and members of Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Early the following year saw the release of the Cowboy Worship EP, which McMahon described as a companion piece to Love and which included a cover of Tim Buckley's "Song to the Siren." Amen Dunes' music continued to expand with March 2018's wide-ranging Freedom, a blend of electronic and classic rock sounds and meditations on McMahon's childhood that reunited him with Godspeed You! Black Emperor as well as frequent collaborators Parker Kindred and Delicate Steve. Recorded largely at New York City's Electric Lady Studios, the album also featured production by Chris Coady and Italian electronic musician Panoram. Freedom became Amen Dunes' breakthrough, with its Top 20 placement on the U.S. Independent Albums chart matching its strong critical reception. The following year, a McMahon remix of the Freedom track "L.A." that included contributions from Westerman appeared. Amen Dunes returned in July 2021 with the single "Feel Nothing." McMahon's first release for Sub Pop, it reunited him with Panoram and also boasted vocals by Sleaford Mods' Jason Williamson and production by Ariel Rechtshaid. Amen Dunes' first full-length for Sub Pop, Death Jokes, arrived in May 2024. Nearly five years in the making, the album was influenced by rap and electronic music -- both favorites of McMahon since childhood -- and the destructive nature of American culture. It also featured the keyboards McMahon learned to play while making the album as well as contributions from jazz bassist Sam Wilkes, Christoffer Berg, Panoram, and Money Mark.
© Heather Phares /TiVo


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