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The Damnwells

Pmr + 1

(In Music We Trust; US: 4 Feb 2003; UK: 29 Oct 2002)

The Damnwells make a soundtrack for your drive around the planet as a paying member of the Jilted. It’s alone/together, or better put, the state of consciousness that lead singer Alex Dezen deems “sleepsinging”. Label it whatever you wish: “no depression”, “alt-country”, or even “power-pop”. It’s just really good music.

The key to the quick connection this so-called Poor Man’s Record + 1 makes is due to the escapable linger of Dezen’s voice and lyrics. On all seven tracks of PMR + 1, he creates a scene of intimacy and resolve while the guitars float circles around his phrasing. Especially on the aforementioned “Sleepsinging”, Dezen ponders his subject with lines like, “I have been such a fool for you / I put my faith in things you could never do / Now I’m chasing myself to catch up with you”. Whether he’s questioning the mirror or the lover is for the listener to decide. The door is left ajar for interpretation with allusions to the tenuous hold of “smoke” and “faith”. This ambiguous undercurrent fosters ties that bind for the listener where each personal explanation is correct.

Furthering this disposition is the opening track “H.C.E.”. The back and forth lyricism tugs at the heart like a boat on water with musings like, “I might stay up all night / Or fall in love and tell a lie / I could be the boy who ran away / But I came back to see you one day”. The music is a ‘50s song in Bermuda or the early morning heartache of a note on the bed. Guitarist Dave Chernis and bassist Ted Hudson create a hammock swing with their light interplay, all the while evoking a lush Red House Painters-esque melody.

“While You Can” begins with the sonorous sound of underwater that evokes a “Strawberry Fields” vibe. Then the dooming bassline enters the picture like a cloud casting shadows. It’s a testament to atmosphere that pulls the Damnwells away from an easy label. The song uncovers a wider resonance that points to vast potential. One can only guess what they might do in the studio for Lost Highway Records (with whom they recently signed).

The last two tracks end this glorified EP with a pensive stroll. “Goodnight Tonight” is a tribute to the band’s subtlety in that it allows the open air to permeate. The focus is keen and quiet making the unexpected touch of late-arriving saxophones perfectly out of place in this mantra on parting. “Everybody Knows” is a breezy coda that sends us out on a hop suggesting the leap of things to come. The outro of a guitar’s crash and burn suggests a reinvention is on the way. As Dezen puts it, “I built this bridge / And burned it away”. If this (poor man’s) record is any indication, the bridge to the future is promising indeed.

Tim Slowikowski has been writing for PopMatters since the halcyon days of 2003. His favorite record that year was Outkast's Speakerboxx/The Love Below. A graduate of the University of Iowa, Tim has also written for Chicago Innerview and Kevin Smith's now-defunct (and unfortunately titled) Movie Poop Shoot. Tim studied at Chicago's famous haven for improv and sketch comedy, Second City, where he formed a comedy group and traveled across the country performing for the unwashed masses. Currently shopping a screenplay with the rest of America, Tim lives in Chicago with his wife Megan.

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