David-Ivar Herman Dune sings with abandon. On his first solo record, Ya Ya (a break from the band, Herman Dune, he has with his brother), he blows through 10 songs with a warble that sounds like a slightly less restrained Daniel Johnston. The lyrics (clever, precise), and the music (ukulele, guitar, drums) take a back seat to the endearing earnestness of the man’s voice. If you could find a negative of Nick Cave’s voice, it would look an awful lot like David-Ivar.
That out of the way, Ya Ya is a charming, promising CD. It’s the kind of record one would buy to impress a crush. David-Ivar’s songs are something of a gift, the kind that is inexpensive and unexpected and brighten up a moment in a day. On first listen, they come across as so much anti-folk rambling. Repeated listening open them up though, unlike some others associated with that scene. David-Ivar has more in common, lyrically, with John Prine or the humorous side of Lyle Lovett than he does with Jeffrey Lewis or Adam Green. One never gets the sense that they have entered the theatre of the absurd. David-Ivar rarely sounds forced and the specificity of the songs work to endear one to him rather than to alienate. The big touchstone being, of course, Jonathan Richman (isn’t he Sir Jonathan Richman yet? or something equivalent?). It is Richman’s essence that bears down on this record, the lyrical attention to detail that separates the bands who sing jokes from those who just happen to be funny (and often sad at the same time). The details are David-Ivar’s greatest strength, and he spends much of the record playing to this.
Anyone who has struggled to watch a favorite band play in front of eight people can appreciate these lyrics, from “Time of Glory/NYC”:
I haven’t slept in my bed for 12 weeks
I haven’t walked my dog in 12 weeks
I’ve written songs that made me sound so angry
I’ll burn a CD and I’ll send you a copy
And then, on “Song For the Family”, David-Ivar tries to win someone over, but not before trying to be tough:
I bet you could have told that I’d been freebasing in the back of the bar
And I bet you could have told that I’d been cheating on someone I like
But none of this would have been true
‘Cuz I would just have been waiting for you
Ya Ya continues, with “Do the Swimming Dragon” sounding like a less sarcastic, but equally energetic Unrest. “From the Richest Planet” shuffles along, the perfect song to play at the close of a summer barbecue. “Coming From the Attic Window” could be the Rolling Stones if they, you know, recorded on a four-track and listened to a lot of Grifters seven-inches (which might be a good career move for them). The last few songs wear a bit thin and when the final track, a cover of Otis Redding’s “These Arms of Mine” begins, there is an urge to find David-Ivar, grab him, and yell “Buck up, young man!” The warbling has become too much for the songs. Or rather, the songs are not strong enough for the voice. Up until then, though, David-Ivar is a bit of a force: smart, melodic and similar to that really cool guy we all know who no one understands at first.
Oh, and if you’re wondering about the ukulele… don’t worry. It’s not a gimmick instrument. It’s played with sincerity, the unique sound of it only adding to the feel of Ya Ya. David-Ivar is a Parisian export like no other right now. While not solid throughout, his first solo CD certainly offers enough for the curious to become smitten.