Bastards of the Beat
First Appeared at The Music Box, June 2004, Volume 11, #6
Written by T.J. Simon
Music journalists are fond of trumpeting the fact that Steven Terry, The Damnwells’ drummer spent a stint in Ryan Adams’ old band Whiskeytown. However, credit for the excellence exhibited on The Damnwells’ full-length debut Bastards of the Beat really belongs to singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Alex Dezen whose vocals alternatively recall Rhett Miller (Old 97’s) and Justin Currie (Del Amitri). The album is full of the kind of hook-heavy, easily digestible, power pop ditties that were exhibited on the group’s 2002 EP. Touches of Americana instrumentation — such as the slide guitar on Newborn History — grace the collection, inevitably leading many to making comparisons between The Damnwells and Wilco.
Without exception, the first nine songs on Bastards of the Beat have the makings of the first truly excellent pop release of 2004. At the top of the heap is I’ll Be Around, an ultra-catchy number with a great trumpet joining the fray at the halfway point. On the other hand, the lyrical pinnacle is the relentlessly clever ballad I Will Keep the Bad Things from You. Unfortunately, ignoring some of the sloppy production is a must as the sound of Dezen rustling the paper of a lyric sheet mars the otherwise perfect song. Another bright spot is the building intensity of Sleepsinging, which is enhanced by a cool, space-y guitar effect.
Nevertheless, Bastards of the Beat runs out of steam on its final four cuts — five if one includes the lame hidden track. It’s as if the band ran out of hooks for the final third of the race. Songs such as Texas and New Dehli aren’t painful listens, but they fall short of the brilliance that shines throughout the lion’s share of the disc. ˝
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2004 The Music Box