If you've followed Damon McMahon's journey as Amen Dunes then you've seen an outsider with lo-fi psychedelic tendencies evolve into a powerful songwriter able to emotionally connect with his audience (think Majical Cloudz). Throughout this evolution, McMahon has built a modest but deeply devoted following (just read the comments section here), in large part thanks to his transition into more accessible territory beginning with his last LP Love, an album aptly described as "alternative country". Having listened to that album extensively, I had nothing but high hopes for Freedom.
As I went through Freedom, I was reminded that I rarely listen to anything else like Amen Dunes. I love synthesizers and soulful singing (side note: Dunes is more soulful on this record than ever) but McMahon's voice is so penetrating that I always feel like I'm doing something important when I take in his music. So he's become an outlier in my listening rotation, a necessity. I distinctly remember reflecting upon this when listening to "Skipping School" for the first time, more or less marveling that in 2018 I'm listening to something that sounds like grunge. But in that very moment, heavenly layers of piano, guitar feedback, and reverberating harmonica opened up into an atmospheric climax as Dunes' voice lifted above the swirling composition, even briefly scat singing halfway into his transcendent verse. "Skipping School" translates a gripping emotion that feels universal. It's the kind of song that makes you want to hold a lighter to the sky. But for those that enjoyed the bleakness of early Amen Dunes, there's traces of lonerism – an esoteric cowboy – in the simple but heavy "Satudarah”, a song that beats slowly like a funeral march.
But "Satudarah" is only a dark intermission from the earnestness of Freedom as it's immediately followed up with "Believe". "When I was a kid I was afraid to die / but I growed up now," McMahon sings. Freedom Is Dunes' breakout album, and it just so happens to be a coming-of-age album. The videos and themes behind "Miki Dora" and "Blue Rose" tell us he's done some soul-searching to uncover and pay homage to his life journey. The result is an anthemic album that’s almost circular in how it beautifully wraps the sonics of the intro into the ending of the last song - a complete journey from childhood to present day. McMahon's teenage angst and rebellious escape into music may be a familiar story for many but that's what makes it so great. Like it or not, the outsider is more appealing and transparent than ever.