Bastards of the Beat
The Damnwells are a meat and potatoes alt-country/rock band from Brooklyn with a few odd quirks. Unfortunately, those quirks don’t make Bastards of the Beat worthy of repeated listening.
The record opens with a brief, Neil Young-like acoustic guitar and harmonica number that finds singer Alex Dezen musing about how “Everybody grew up and turned into assholes.” Nice way to introduce yourselves guys. Later, on the otherwise dull “New Delhi,” Dezen seems to take that misanthropic perspective to a new low with a fun little couplet: “What’s the deal with you and Lucinda? / She said that you broke her hymen while playing kick ball.” Check please!
To be fair, the record isn’t entirely unpleasant. “What You Get” is a straight-ahead rocker that sounds like a lost Tommy Tutone follow-up to “867-5309/Jenny.” Tunes like “The Sound” have some decent enough guitar work (from Dezen and Dave Chernis) to recommend them. “Sleepsinging” is a churning, hypnotic stab at Brit pop. If “Electric Harmony” actually had anything interesting to say, it might not be a bad song either. And “Kiss Catastrophe” even gives you the impression that seeing these guys in a bar might not be such a terrible experience. I can attest that they do have a certain stage presence.
More often though, the lyrics are lazy and the music is uninspired. The bouncy “The Lost Complaint” offers this bit of wisdom: “When you gonna stay the same / Not till I’ve gone away / When you gonna take the blame / Oh when your love has strayed.” Or how about these lines from the acoustic “I Will Keep the Bad Things From You”: “I will be your dad and mother / I will give you older brothers / I will feed you fries with steak sauce / I will keep the price below cost.” Dezen sings these goofy lines not with a wink but in an unfailingly earnest, raspy-throated rock star voice that bears a passing resemblance to Ryan Adams. Incidentally, The Damnwells’ drummer Steven Terry spent some time in Whiskeytown.
The Damnwells occasionally have the chops and the sound of a band with talent, but not enough to distract you from their lack of originality, insipid lyrics and general malaise. “Catch it while you can / It’s the feel good hit of the summer,” Dezen sings on one song. Um, not exactly.
The Damnwells: www.thedamnwells.com