We have yet to make it halfway through 2018, but I’m about to make a hot take that some might argue is six months too soon - Amen Dunes’ Freedom is an Album of the Year candidate for 2018. Now, if you read that and thought - “He’s right! That is sort of a hot take, considering it’s only May,” that’s totally justified! In fact, I’d say that’s entirely true, but in the world of online (more specifically, online entertainment) writing, it’s never too early to make hot takes in service of year end lists and “best ofs.”
There are still plenty of heavy hitters to come - Father John Misty (yay!), Kanye (yikes), Lykke Li (finally!), Kamasi Washington (he’s a machine!), Celine Dion (lol) - but from the Year-to-Date perspective, I believe wholeheartedly that Amen Dunes put out the best album to this point. So there, I’ve cooled the hot take, but it’s still warm, but like I’ve reiterated a few times now, I think Freedom is unparalleled to this point in the year. Sure, Beach House put out an impressive record a week ago, and Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour will inevitably gain some steam (deservedly so), but the unique sound design and song structures of Freedom still hold more weight in my mind.
Now, rather than go one a deep dive into what I believe the merits and substantiating aspects of Freedom, I’ll leave it up to you - the reader - to do such dutiful research on your own. I am no shepherd, merely a messenger (or would informant be more accurate?). Anyway, the objective of this particular write-up is of course to relay how exceptional a performance Amen Dunes puts on display, and they do exactly that.
In a word, I’d describe Amen Dunes’ live set the same way I would their music - vibey (or “a vibe” to use more “hip” vernacular). As referenced earlier, there’s a distinct design to Amen Dunes’ music, one that accentuates and dissociates the live concert going experience. The music is not quiet, but there’s something enveloping and insular to it, despite songs like “Dracula” having a particularly driving spirit. These are songs that can be expanded upon in the live setting or left the same altogether, and still somehow, Damon McMahon and his consortium of vibe (vibe-masters? vibe-lords?) manage to find a middle ground of the two.
It’s likely that most in attendance for Amen Dunes’ Ryman set have limited exposure to Freedom or Amen Dunes’ catalog outside of “Blue Rose” and maybe “Believe” because those are Amen Dunes’ top two songs across streaming platforms and we all know that people who buy tickets to see one band (in this case, Fleet Foxes) but might not be familiar with the opener tend to do the ole Spotify “search, sample, and scrub.”
If you’re not familiar with the “search, sample, and scrub,” that’s okay, because I just made it up. In a sense, it’s the practice of searching an artist you’re unfamiliar with, sampling their “Top 5” most streamed songs, and scrubbing through each of the “Top 5” tunes to expedite a decision or an opinion on the artist.
So, now that we’ve sufficiently satisfied that sidebar, let’s get back to the show. As mentioned earlier, Damon McMahon and his band mates make for some supremely good vessels of vibe. Despite the fact that their set was all of about thirty minutes, they packed in six songs that brought a groove usually found in venues outside of The Mother Church. While running through tunes like the aforementioned “Blue Rose” the song from Freedom that stood out “L.A.”
Sure, the sentiment that “LA” was the best song of Amen Dunes’ Ryman set is totally subjective, because it also happens to be my favorite song off of Freedom, but that’s beside the point. Drenched in deep blue and purple lights (with the occasional sheen of red), the child’s audio sample in “LA” made for a surreal moment in the hallowed halls of The Mother Church, so much so that it almost lent credence to the superstitious thought that those who performed in the auditorium long before Amen Dunes ever chime in during shows on occasion (it should be noted - that’s second hand information from a ghost tour I passed one time walking into the Ryman). But ethereal interactions aside, “LA” was a groove. That outro is (here goes nothing) “a vibe,” and McMahon sold it.
In the end, I don’t know if this write-up has sold you on locking in Freedom as one of you AOTY finalists, but as far as the show went, it sure sold me. I’d love to see a full-fledged Amen Dunes show in Nashville (or elsewhere, if need be) sometime soon, maybe at Basement East? Granted, Amen Dunes’ next show happens to be later today, as they finish out their two night stand in support of Fleet Foxes at The Ryman, so if you happen to have tickets, skip the “search, sample, and scrub” and just show up early to witness the brilliance of Amen Dunes. It’s a vibe, for sure.