Music

Friends of Dean Martinez: On the Shore

Rob Horning

Friends of Dean Martinez

On the Shore

Label: Narnack
US Release Date: 2003-01-28
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

Formerly featuring Calexico's Joey Burns and John Convertino, Friends of Dean Martinez explore similar musical territory on this expansive, sweeping, all-instrumental two-disc set, featuring an array of songs which evoke the Sonoran desert in its various states, be it sun-baked and sizzling (the feedback and distortion drenched "Overload"), or drenched in monsoon rain (the atmospherics and found noises of "Main Theme"), and in the various moods it inspires: a melancholy in the face of majesty ("Indian Summer", "Through the Whine"), or a near whimsical sense of clock-like perseverance ("Alternate Theme"). Typically deemed cinematic, Friends of Dean Martinez open and close these discs with the sound of spooling film to acknowledge the inescapable comparison.

Though On the Shore certainly resembles soundtrack music, it's much less Ennio Morricone than it is Pink Floyd. Bill Elm's reverberating steel guitar, the instrument that stands in where vocals would be, is frequently reminiscent of David Gilmour's booming, eternally sustained notes, drawing out solos for what seems like forever with the absolute minimum of melody. "Under the Waves", with its slow-motion acoustic guitar figure and its swelling organ chords, sounds like it could be an outtake from Meddle, and "Omaha" even bears a passing resemblance to the epic outro of "Echoes". Eminently listenable without being entirely engaging, the album makes for perfect mood music for those trapped on freeways or in offices and longing for unconfined freedom to roam without any urgent or specific destination. On the Shore indulges such lazy fantasies, while remaining forbidding enough to ultimately caution one against them.

Like a musical equivalent of Gus Van Sant's Gerry, the record intimates the sublime grandeur of nature while insisting simultaneously, through long monotonous ambient passages both hypnotic and unsettling, on the utter indifference of it. Spaciousness can feel wide open and inviting, but it can also feel oppressive, obviating any significance one might assign to oneself. Friends of Dean Martinez manage to capture both of these, giving the album a dialectical complexity, as it seems to argue with itself, never quite resolving the mysteries implicit in their panoramic soundscapes.

Like those 1960s albums by such distinctive (and quite distinct) players as Mongo Santamaria, Gabor Szabo, or Sergio Mendes, On the Shore's first disc, compiled from two previous EPs, features a few unmistakable pop hits ("Wichita Lineman", "Tennessee Waltz") homogenized into the FODM style, hovering somewhere between jazz, novelty, and elevator music. That may sound like an insult, but it's meant to be a compliment, as the band sounds even more like itself while playing covers than it does in its originals. This proves that they have succeeded in establishing an identity for themselves that transcends even the most recognizable pop hooks, one that demands a listener reckon with it on its own terms.

The more recently recorded second disc is the more challenging one, working with slower tempos and more sinister guitar work. Elm's slide guitar no longer wails plaintive melodies that might otherwise be sung, but instead creates buzzing, angry, minor-keyed cries, reaching for unpredictable notes that are less yearning and more provoking than on the first disc. "And Love to be the Master of Hate" is especially brooding, built on what sounds like backwards guitar and organ parts that seem to suck themselves into some abhorred vacuum to save nature the trouble. "On the Shore" adapts Tago Mago-era Can, as well as Goblin, to accommodate the banjo and steel guitar, making these instruments seem like seamless extensions of the electronic ones employed in the earlier Krautrock experimentations. The heavy, ominous moods these tracks create begin to overwhelm one, with each crescendo another sand dune crashing down, threatening to suffocate one altogether.

While it is unlikely that many could tolerate 90 unrelieved minutes of this, On the Shore -- in small doses -- works as a purgative and a restorative: it is impossible to hear any other kind of music in one's head while FODM is playing, so when one returns to something else, it sounds ineluctably light.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image