A stellar return, and perhaps his finest yet...
'Freedom'

“This time, is your time. Their time, is over…”

The first words on Amen Dunes’ new album ‘Freedom’ are as bold as they come. A spoken word sample of a child actor, it sums up many of the album’s recurring themes – childhood, seizing opportunities, coming of age experiences - in one snapshot of bold defiance.

It’s exactly what the record deserves. We’ve seen flashes of this maturity, of this aesthetic confidence before, but ‘Freedom’ is Amen Dunes undiluted, unleashed, a broad, ambitious work that undoubtedly ranks as his finest, most fully realised effort to date.

‘Blue Rose’ is a whispered groove, echoing The War On Drugs’ more languid moments but pivoting into a singular lane. ‘Time’ is a warm, outward-looking meditation, while ‘Skipping School’ swaps nostalgia for lingering feelings of regret, mourning for a past that had left memories both satisfying and pained.

Stylistically, ‘Freedom’ is a phenomenal step forward from the New Yorker, but it’s also a work of incredible emotional subtlety, a nuanced, at times incredibly frank work. ‘Believe’ is one of the most impressive on the album, and it deals with the aftermath of a parent being diagnosed with cancer, as Damon McMahon reflects on his mother’s zest for life, and what can be learned from the darkness.

It’s a tender piece of songwriting, but it also crackles with defiance, the cyclical guitar lines pirouetting into the heavens before falling softly to surface level. It’s a song about reaching adulthood, about time passing, and mortality realised; but it’s also a song about youth, perspective, and seizing every single moment.

This spirit runs through every single inch of Amen Dunes’ new album. Title track ‘Freedom’ states “he can close his eyes but he knows he can’t fake it” as emotions first rise, and then overwhelm; as if freedom comes from knowing yourself, first and foremost.

Final track ‘L.A’ is an undulated, many splintered thing, moving from guitar ambiance to fractured electronics, the cellular techniques in the songwriting evolution propelling one of Damon McMahon’s finest, most impassioned vocals. A song about facing up to responsibilities, it seems to steer straight out to the desert and keeps driving past the never-ending Californian sunshine.

No matter how sweet the music, though, there’s always a slight sting in the tail. The tumbling vocals that close ‘Freedom’ seem to flit between ‘better’ and ‘bitter’, still questioning the experiences he has been through even as the album drifts to its conclusion, settling in the Los Angeles sands.

An enormous leap forward, ‘Freedom’ finds Amen Dunes grappling with his abilities, with the passing of the time; a superb record, it’s one that deserves the widest possible audience.

8/10

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