Amen Dunes, the project from American songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Damon McMahon, has announced Death Jokes, a new album arriving on May 10 through Sub Pop. It’s his first album since 2018’s brilliant Freedom and it’s been written over a transitional and testing period for McMahon. The last five or so years have seen him battle Covid, welcome his first child and move from West coast to East, settling in Woodstock, NY.
All of these experiences will undoubtedly shade Death Jokes, and we get our first glimpse in lead single “Purple Land”. McMahon says:
“Purple Land is one of the album’s interstitial character portraits: first of a child, then the narrator, and then of an empowered figure as they all navigate and find liberation from the disconnection and disenchantment of an uncertain world. It begins first as a song to my daughter about life on earth, offering platitudes, warnings, and guidance through its various stages, until it becomes a reflection on the narrator’s own uncertainties as he moves through the world, ending finally with a character Rhea Anne who exemplifies liberation from it all in a moment of simple reckless freedom, as the beat drops in the final minute of the song.”
As the song starts, McMahon’s sweet observations about the potential of life are buoyed by a bouncing reggae-tinged synth, bringing a smirking levity. Somehow, subtly, as “Purple Land” progresses, the hues slightly change and the songwriter’s confidence wanes to angst and uncertainty; “Mama I can’t write / my mind’s gone soft”. As his spiralling turns to spacing out, “Rhea Anne / she walks in” and the beat drops in the most sweet and satisfying way. This unexpected finale knocks any doubts out the way as the singer swaggers onwards; “Life goes by / But I don’t mind / I’ll be holding you every day.”