Dean Wareham - Dean Wareham

by Steve Reynolds Rating:8 Release Date:2014-03-10

There is no way I could review a Dean Wareham album without mentioning his seminal slowcore band Galaxie 500. OK, that’s enough, 'cause most people of discerning musical taste will be familiar with their stuff, right? If not, well I suggest you go and invest NOW.

Anyway, on with discussing his new self-titled solo album produced and aided by My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James and a minuet crew of musicians, including his long-term partner and previous collaborator Britta Phillips. It has all the hallmarks of Dean’s previous commitments to record: sombre strains of melancholy, and a sedate but beautifully intertwined arrangement. 

The majority of the songs are dreamlike, take ‘My Eyes are Blue’ which is exquisitely assembled but free of airs and graces and bluster but awash with copious amounts of minimalistic magic. Wareham seems content and the warmth of his songs is evident right from the first bars of ‘Dance Disappears’. A taut but chiming guitar rings across his easily recognisable vocal delivery and resonates like an older Jonathan Donohue. Throughout the nine songs here, there is a correlation to Mercury Rev, evident on the softly spoken eerie ‘Beat the devil’.

Jim James certainly brings his MMJ armoury with him and stamps his authority on the production with more than the odd nod towards simplistic country, such is the black and white purity of the music, with affection for wide open spaces throughout the album, personified by the maudlin ‘My Eyes Are Blue’.

Wareham’s material continues to bewitch. His lyrics have always seemed so effortlessly fragile. The sparse musical arrangement really brings his voice to the fore on ‘Heartless People’: “Somebody tell me which way the power lies/ I looked at you and knew you were for me.” At times, he might seem a hopeless romantic but his heart and soul are constantly on the line. On ‘Love is Not a Roof Against the Rain’, his expressions seem that of a lonely man: “What have I done with my life/ WWhat have I done with the keys?”

‘Holding Pattern’ and ‘I Can Give Them All’ reminds of Galaxie 500 (damn, I wasn’t going to mention them again, tut tut). Wareham’s disposition is suddenly sunny and rises to the strains of his trademark guitar sounds which set the foundations for his early career so wonderfully. Those two tracks in particular really demonstrate the variety and creative sinews which the band have. You can smell the confidence and aura that comes from his accompanying musicians and the meticulous production lavished by Jim James. 

‘Babes in the Wood’ stomps along, switching from the calm to a squall of Velvet Underground fuzz choked by Wareham’s stoically defiant vocal - it's the stand-out track. ‘Happy and Free’, meanwhile, is so damn happy. Accompanied by a shuffling beat, it paints a picture of Wareham driving into the sunset on his own, beaming from ear to ear. Was it deliberately chosen as the last track to cement his songwriting as being generally plaintive and beard-stroking or just to make you scratch your head and think otherwise? 

Who knows, but what is so beguiling is he still has a clever knack of creating songs with singular emotion. This album is positively dripping in the stuff. 

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