Douglas Martin’s Dirty Shoes: Amen Dunes “Song to the Siren”

Douglas Martin kicks the tires on Amen Dunes' cover of a beloved tune by Tim Buckley and This Mortal Coil
By    December 10, 2014

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Douglas Martin is never mad on vacation

Covering a cover of a cover is usually as redundant as it sounds, but leave it to Damon McMahon to use that to add new emotional heights to a song that has been around forever. Spiritually indebted to both Tim Buckley’s original version of “Song to the Siren” and This Mortal Coil’s take on the song, Amen Dunes splits the influence by paying homage to both acts while managing come across as only something McMahon and his revolving door of bandmates could bring into the world. After all, Tim Buckley was reportedly a major influence on this year’s amazing Love, and Sacred Bones has been the new 4AD for at least three years now. The two aforementioned renditions are emotive and arresting in their own right, but the way “Song to the Siren” is repurposed here solidifies what makes Amen Dunes one of the most solidly and consistently great recording projects in guitar music today.

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The combination of one voice and one six-stringed apparatus should, for all intents and purposes, be old hat in 2014, but it’s such a pure expression of communication that its intimacy still cuts to the core. Over a slightly arrhythmic guitar line provided by Ben Greenberg (most notably of the Men, but his solo project Hubble is also worth checking out), McMahon wraps Buckley’s lyrics in his distinctive singing voice and raises the emotion by a substantial degree. There’s a particular sincerity, an untraceable passion caught within how McMahon sings, which takes a host of songs that could otherwise be seen as unusual and gives them all a quality that can cut a listener to the core. It
awakens the vulnerability in us, regardless of how dormant it have been.

“Soulful” has been reduced to a buzzword nowadays, a descriptor we use to describe white dudes who sing like Teddy Pendergrass. But the Amen Dunes reimagining of “Song to the Siren” drives home the idea that you need not mimic a bunch of old R&B records, that being soulful only requires you to have a soul you’re willing to bare.

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