Amen Dunes keeps roving

Losing Love, Damon McMahon gains travel plans

On the return trip from a recent European tour, Damon McMahon was listening to some demos he'd recorded while contemplating his next move after playing shows supporting his latest album, Love (Sacred Bones). "I don't know when I'm going to have time to do all this shit," McMahon, who performs as Amen Dunes, says about fully realizing those bare-bones recordings after making it back to New York.

Love, which was recorded in Montreal, arrives as McMahon's most concerted pop album, following a Sacred Bone's predecessor and last year's self-released experimental offering, Spoiler, an album uncoupled from rock's lineage in any form. A few reasonably sedate, folksy offerings crop up on this latest; "Lonely Richard" and "I Know Myself" are particularly tailored for summertime melancholy. Even a few piano jams are included, but separated from New York's nervousness by about 400 miles and the Canadian border.

Love is McMahon's fourth album as Amen Dunes. But each of his recorded endeavors have necessitated movement, whether it was taking up residency in New York to join Inouk, his first ensemble, in the early aughts or splitting town after being devastated by how the music industry actually functions. Each of those subsequent stopovers has left a sonic pockmark on his albums and differentiates one recording from the next, reflecting the songwriter's changing mood as influenced by the outside environment. "I totally hear place on the records. It's the tuning fork quality that any place has," McMahon says about crafting each album in a unique setting. "They're all me, but with different energies."

DIA, Amen Dunes' 2006 release, "is me, but in the woods. It was my going psychotic," McMahon says. New York's Catskills Mountains, where the effort was set to tape, weren't far enough away for McMahon to retreat. Shortly after the album's completion, he decamped to China and recorded an EP, Murder Dull Mind, which seems to be the moment when Amen Dunes began hinting at the possibility of Love and its pop solemnity. "Diane," the EP's second track, is all lilting guitar and piano, lushly orchestrated, or as much as it could be given the primitive nature of the recording. But a hushed, stately quality emerges from the song and the album as a whole. "It's a longing for the States," McMahon says. It's controlled emotion, something largely absent from the unhinged DIA.

After coaxing by folks who heard those two early efforts, McMahon returned to New York and eventually churned out 2011's Through Donkey Jaw. The album is still beholden to the most avant-garde reaches of what pop as a genre can hope to encompass, but a step back from the ledge that DIA presented. A wavering nervousness pushes Through Donkey Jaw — "Jill" being particularly twitchy — with McMahon saying the album reflects New York's uptight, bad vibes.

However, Love, easily Amen Dunes' most accessible album, affects McMahon's future travel plans, the impetus for the entire project is tied to a sturdy recollection of the singer's childhood. "It was like being in the woods. It was really beautiful and I liked it," McMahon says about growing up in Weston, Conn., far removed from clubs he now performs in. "Amen Dunes really comes from being in the woods all the time."

McMahon might again seek out another hideaway in the woods to spew out recordings. And wherever that spot may be, it's sure to prompt further sonic developments, whether influenced by a new set of mountains, some other Eastern nation, or his chasing down love in a new place.