2005 (Aero recordings)
A bright and sunny album from Friends of Dean Martinez? -- not likely -- but Lost Horizon is the closest thing to an "up" album that the boys have yet put out. Where 2004's Random Harvest was all twilight and settled dust, Lost Horizon is all dawn and evaporating dew. The back story attached to the tunes is still dark this time out, but there's a sense of contentedness and hope as well. Even dirge-tempo numbers like "All in the Golden Afternoon" and "Departure" have a sense of new-day optimism coupled with their Western desert melancholia. In keeping with Friends of Dean Martinez's usual mode of operations, achingly beautiful melodies glide over parched and barren arrangements -- mixing the gorgeous with the gritty and delivering the Old West atmospherics that fans of the band require and expect. Like all of the band's previous efforts, Lost Horizon plays beautifully as the soundtrack to a Cinemascope Western film -- elongated forms kicking up dust on a landscape of perpetual sunset -- and is suitable for filing somewhere between the film music of Ennio Morricone and the cowboy paintings of Frederic Remington.
Just a year after they issued On the Shore, Friends of Dean Martinez returned with Random Harvest, an album that finds them at their most powerful since A Place in the Sun. However, Random Harvest is darker and more rock-oriented than that album and, indeed, than any of their previous work. The heavy guitars and winding keyboards that run through the album nod to classic rock like Led Zeppelin and the Doors while still staying within the confines of the band's widescreen Southwestern sound. What's more, the album is also Friends of Dean Martinez's most thematically cohesive work; instead of being just filmic, Random Harvest could actually work as a soundtrack, ideally to a smart, stylish horror movie like 28 Days Later. An eerie tension seeps into all of the album, beginning with the taut, jazzy "So Well Remembered" and ending with "Nowhere to Go," which begins as a bittersweet ballad and, without warning, turns into a rock monster with guitar tones that would make many a metal band jealous. But even within this louder sound, Friends of Dean Martinez are masters of restraint; "Ripcord"'s intense guitars stop short of wanky indulgence, and the very spooky "Winter Palace" does a lot with minimal percussion, organ, and a delicately plucked acoustic guitar. As consistent as the whole album is, Random Harvest's middle stretch is truly outstanding. The title track's icy strings and buzzing bass and guitars combine into something both gorgeous and menacing, like a cross between stoner rock and the atmospherics for which Friends of Dean Martinez are better known. The 11-minute "Dusk" is no less impressive, an appropriately dark and rolling epic with vaguely Middle Eastern guitars that reference Led Zep and the Deftones' prettier moments as well as their own work. "Lost Horizon" reintroduces the Southwestern theme into this more amped-up sound and draws the album near its end with a sweeping, shimmering majesty. Random Harvest is a fascinating, beautiful album that proves that even though Friends of Dean Martinez may no longer be on the cutting edge of hip, the band just keeps getting better as it goes along.
Under the Waves
A Place in the Sun
A Place in the Sun marks another departure for Friends of Dean Martinez, who travel further away from their somewhat kitschy-sounding early work with each following effort. On their second album for Knitting Factory, the band aims for -- and achieves -- the filmic expansiveness of Rachel's, the Dirty Three, and Godspeed You Black Emperor while retaining their essentially Southwestern sound. The results sound like the soundtrack to a spaghetti western set in modern-day Arizona, especially on the epic title track, which remains compelling yet subtle over its nine-minute duration. "White Lake"'s scorched guitars, "When You're Gone"'s simple, spacious folk, and the Bill Frisell-like cover of "Summertime" testify to the band's increasingly wide musical range, while the brooding "Broken Bell" (which features the Tosca String Quartet) reveals Friends of Dean Martinez's growing emotive power. "Siempre Que" and "Nothing at All" recall the group's loungey/retro roots, and song titles like "Aluminium" and "Pistola Agua" show they haven't lost their sense of humor, but A Place in the Sun deals more with their potential and ambitions than it does with their previous successes.
The Shadow of Your Smile
1995 (Sub Pop)
A post-modern fusion of Santo & Johnny, Dick Dale and the Ventures, with a heaping side order of Tex-Mex border music. Whether or not the musicians are playing this straight or not, they're playing it very well, and the result is good fun, even if it's totally uncharacteristic of the material offered by the Giant Sand/Naked Prey axis in the past.
Like what you hear, buy it! And support the artists that really need it.