The first five songs on Amen Dunes’ Through Donkey Jaw are an exercise in building trust. Damon McMahon introduces his confident, monotone voice amidst a backdrop of warm, psychedelic guitar riffs, build-ups and well-placed drum breaks. These songs are notably the most accessible on the album — McMahon could likely win over even the most skeptical of listeners with the melting strings and enthusiastic vocals of “Baba Yaga.” And while the album’s first third maintains a distortion akin to Amen Dunes’ previous releases, the sound is fuller, the melodies are more distinguishable and the lyrics are more infectious (it’s hard to resist McMahon’s chanting on the second half of “Swim Up Behind Me”).
The album’s extended introduction culminates with “Not A Slave,” a song that evolves from the standard hazy, psychedelic jam into a pulsing anthem that’s a definite highlight of the album. This is clearly McMahon’s last attempt to ingratiate the listener before the album takes a turn for the strange. Just after the aforementioned bliss of “Not A Slave,” McMahon kicks out the dirty, stumbling guitar riffs and dizzying rhythm that make up Through Donkey Jaw‘s most challenging track, “Jill.” McMahon’s voice is the only rock by which to cling to as the song repeatedly pummels the listener with sonic waves and storms of sound.
When the barrage subsides, McMahon is the Sherpa in an alien land filled with deep distortion, whispering echoes, and unpredictable percussion. The tracks bleed together while still maintaining distinguishable characteristics. The sound evokes feelings from late ’60s/early ’70s greats and allusions to these artists abound. The album’s title may be a nod to the underrated track, “Donkey Jaw,” off America’s 1972 self-titled release. Even the artwork is a throwback to decades past, with the tracks listed in accordance to record sides A and B.
Through Donkey Jaw stands out as an album that is willing to push and challenge the listener without ever scaring them away. The line is so tightly walked, in fact, that were the tracks rearranged, a song like “Gem Head” would lose its relative polish only made possible by its predecessors. McMahon is so confident in his ability to commandeer the listener’s sensibilities that the final track, “Tomorrow Never Knows” — a ten-minute behemoth only sparsely populated with vocals — is a true test. Although sonically miles apart from the Beatles song of the same name, this closer parallels the Revolver track in its goal of separating those truly onboard with the artistic direction, from those that merely enjoy an accessible hook or melody. Through Donkey Jaw is an excellent, provocative release. Although it may lack a few standout tracks, the album makes up for this small gripe with cohesion, individuality and remarkable pacing throughout. Put your trust in Amen Dunes and you will not be disappointed.
The Microphones – The Glow Pt 2
America – America
Tame Impala – Innerspeaker
Stream: Amen Dunes – “Christopher”