Shawn David McMillen – Dead Friends

January 01, 1970

(Tompkins Square)

 

www.tompkinssquare.com

 

Shawn David McMillen comes
off as something of a “jack of all trades” on Dead Friends. He plays
acoustic guitar, electric guitar, piano, electronics, percussion, harmonica,
and he sings and composes his own material. But like many ambitious artists, he
stretches himself thin in too many directions. McMillen’s main bag seems to
come out of modern folk/blues guitar, and his tunes in this style are often
beautiful – but just as often uneven. His moments of clarity, usually spurred
by heartfelt acoustic guitar playing, are regularly undercut by serious lapses
in focus.

 

Ironically, this seeming
lack of focus is tapped to create some of the recording’s better tracks. The
flip side to McMillen’s folk/blues tendency are his avant/psychedelic/noise
leanings. “The Moth,” “Night Train,” and “Beladona Along The Brazos” are often
intentional, claustrophobic messes of clattering percussion, manipulated
electronics, and unintelligible buried murmurings. Arrhythmic barrages of sound
combine with Captain Beefheart style psychedelic blues in “The Moth.”
Particularly dissonant is “Night Train” with it’s grating, distorted, cranked
up electric guitar fighting against the one, simple melodic piano line coursing
through the entire tortured piece. This tune’s ending comes off like an
abruptly terminated existential argument.

 

These days “dark” seems to
be in vogue and it occasionally feels like some bands try to capitalize on it
as a trend. McMillen doesn’t seem to be posing. The recording’s title is
self-explanatory in its darkness, his more tune-like pieces have a strong
melancholic streak, and the CD’s artwork seems like an intentional downer. The
more ‘avant-garde’ tracks strain against self-imposed walls that can’t be
broken through and end up feeling like lost battles. Occasionally interesting
music but often very difficult and rather average.

 

DOWNLOAD: “The Moth,”
“A Morning With Dead Friends” JOHN DWORKIN

 

 

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