Mash Concrete Metal Mushroom
From the lazy opening chords of the gentle Velvet Underground-meets-Burrito Brothers romp “New Jersey Cross Concrete,” you wouldn’t think that Herman Dune are a bunch of sexy motherfuckers, would you? You’d imagine Half Japanese in cowboy hats or an even more ramshackle Lambchop or something, right? Well you’d be damn wrong, because I saw Herman Dune onstage in London a couple years back, and despite their somewhat haphazard appearance (and music), good lord those Frenchmen were pop fucking idols in my pantheon. Sunglasses, infinite cigarettes, pretty girls dancing at the front of the stage, heart-stopping Galaxie 500 chimes and these wonderful French accents with a childlike inflection. Oh man, at that moment it all just came into such beautiful focus: a distinctly French take on latter-period Velvet Underground and early ’90s American lo–fi, like Beat Happening via the liquid mystery and darkness of, say, Mazzy Star. Tainted innocence, y’see?
Sometimes Mash Concrete Metal Mushroom seems like it’s about to collapse from sheer slack and disorganization and existential ennui, but they just keep on truckin’ with this amazing childlike enthusiasm. “On the Knick” steals some licks from the VU’s “Here Comes The Sun,” but it’s just fine, man, cuz these soft Euro voices harmonizing about pioneers and a bare bones kick drum make for a fine mantra. “Monkey Song” revels in surrealism of the highest order over an exuberant chorus where everyone joins in with cries of “If some of my friends could be monkeys/They would have four hands and understand me,” over a shambling backing and some beautiful hidden soloing. “Let Me Pry” has me hanging on the mountainous silences in between every stumbling chord and slide guitar squiggle — so pure like West Virginia mountains, so instinctive and bare. The massed vocals are something else worth mentioning. They make Herman Dune sound so … just … impossible. The heart-stopping beauty when the singer’s voice cracks a mere handful of words into “All About You,” and the woodblock percussion, and the girl joining in the chorus again. This is so….
God, I can’t even sum up “Futon Song” adequately, communicating longing with ease with such purposely-restrained music and fluid lead guitar that coils all around the little boy lost vocals about trains and fractured love (Galaxie 500, but so much more). And if I’m in trouble during “Futon Song,” then I figure I might as well pack it all in around five seconds into “Metal Mash.” I’m dead, close the coffin. It’s probably the loneliest and saddest song I’ve heard this year, and baby doll, I immersed myself in the stuff. This is ancient music, old as the hills, so beautiful. I’ve been listening to and dreading writing about this song in equal measure, which is to say, a whole fucking bunch. An aloof girl, a quavery uncertain boy, homemade guitar played slowly, afterthought percussion and what sounds like rattling chains; “whatever you do or say/only makes a difference today” indeed, and the lingering feeling that you’ve heard it all before in the quiet moments full of disquiet and age. The only way to emerge from that wondrous void, then, is to totally annex the monochromatic riff of “Sweet Jane” and reconstruct the events of post-breakup withering in nursery rhymes and THEN get all your friends to sing “why would that hurt” at the same time, which they do on “Why Would That Hurt (If You Never Loved Me).” “Taking Taxis In Winter Clothes” ends things on a sufficiently lyrically oblique and musically elliptical note, a loping waltz that leads to nowhere with fabulous murmurs. It reminds me of Syd Barrett, with the same sense of fragility and wandering/wondering. Wow. Fucking wow.
Equal parts Velvet Underground, Grateful Dead, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and The Beat Happening. All good things will come to you. I promise this time.
Herman Dune: www.hermandune.com