Review Summary: Something spiritual.
The most remarkable thing you are sure to notice about Freedom, the fifth album by Damon McMahon under the moniker Amen Dunes, is his voice. It is a weapon, deployed against Freedom's forward-leaning arrangements; tense, drawling, violent and muscular in one moment, and gleaming with an elastic, searching soulfulness the next. It is an utterly unique instrument and takes front and center as songs like "Miki Dora" pulse with a murky, vigourous groove, stretching words and phrases while sparring with a bass riff brought to the front of the mix. His voice imbues each moment with a shape-shifting, malleable quality that "Believe" showcases as it launches into his orbit, his voice pushing and pulling a simple rhythm guitar into the songs climax, tepid and uninflected to begin with, unknotting itself, before broadening and growing with energy as he sings, "She'd say, she'd say" in a quivering vibrato.
McMahon's voice is the headline but Freedom is an album that is masterful in the small decisions. "Blue Rose" adds a tambourine half-way through its shuddering, downtempo melody that opens a blind and changes its dynamic completely. The kitschy synth backdrop that continuously reinvents itself behind the vocals on "Calling Paul The Suffering" is bustling with tiny moments of gratification, while title-track "Freedom" is dotted intermittently by bright and brief piano and synth melodies which set the tone with more immediacy than anything else on the track.
Similar to wu lyf's Go Tell Fire To The Mountain, it is an album that cares less whether you understand what is being said, and moreso what it is trying to make you feel. The swampy roots rock of "Dracula", the albums most straightforward song, grapples with a story about coming to terms with a dark past and moving towards redemption, but its focus is a menacing, staccato melody, a rear-facing mirror towards what it is running from. This quality is mostly thanks to the fact Freedom contains the clearest and most detail-rich production of Amen Dunes' catalogue by far and highlights like "Miki Dora" and "Believe", which tend towards the euphoric, are elevated for it. It is particularly in the case of the latter, as it hoists itself into a proto-state of seemingly cosmic independence, that you find McMahon at his very best, his otherworldly sermonizing separating himself from his peers, the other records of 2018, the minor space that he inhabits in culture, by crafting moments that bellow with his strange, unusual energy. It is a place very much worth going.