Over the course of 10 years, Damon McMahon aka Amen Dunes has transformed continuously, and Freedom is the project's boldest leap yet. On the surface, it's a reflection on growing up, childhood friends who ended up in prison or worse, male identity, McMahon's father, and his mother, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer at the beginning of recording. The characters that populate the musical world of Freedom are a colorful mix of reality and fantasy: father and mother, Amen Dunes, teenage glue addicts and Parisian drug dealers, ghosts above the plains, fallen surf heroes, vampires, thugs from Naples and thugs from Houston, the emperor of Rome, Jews, Jesus, Tashtego, Perseus, even McMahon himself. Each character portrait is a representation of McMahon, of masculinity, and of his past.
Yet, if anything, these 11 songs are a relinquishing of all of them through exposition; a gradual reorientation of being away from the acquired definitions of self we all cling to and towards something closer to what's stated in the Agnes Martin quote that opens the record, "I don't have any ideas myself; I have a vacant mind" and in the swirling, pitched down utterances of "That's all not me" that close it. The themes are darker than on previous Amen Dunes albums, but it's a darkness sublimated through grooves. The music, as a response or even a solution to the darkness, is tough and joyous, rhythmic and danceable. The combination of a powerhouse rhythm section, Delicate Steve's guitar prowess filtered through Amen Dunes heft, and Panoram's electronic production background, makes for a special and unique NYC street record.
It's a sound never heard before on an Amen Dunes record, but one that was always asking to emerge. "Blue Rose" and "Calling Paul the Suffering" are pure, ecstatic dance songs. "Skipping School" and "Miki Dora" are incantations of a mythical heroic maleness and its illusions. "Freedom" and "Believe" offer a street tough's future-gospel exhalation, and the funk-grime grit of "L.A." closes the album, projecting a musical hint of things to come.