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Friends of Dean Martinez - Random Harvest

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Artist: Friends of Dean Martinez

Album: Random Harvest

Label: Narnack

Review date: May. 9, 2004

While their former bandmates in Calexico move towards a more mainstream, vocal-oriented sound, the remaining Friends of Dean Martinez have taken the opposite route, cultivating a more challenging post-rock aesthetic. Random Harvest finds the band creating some of their most ambitious work as they abandon retro Tex-Mex kitsch in favor of darkly meditative rock, cranking up the volume several notches in the process.

While entirely without vocals, Random Harvest could nonetheless be termed a “concept album.” The song titles – “Dusk,” “Lost Horizon,” “Nowhere to Go” – evoke the dusty desert expanses that have always been at the core of FODM’s music, and the album feels very much like a leisurely journey through these southwestern landscapes. The sound of the album as a whole is largely homogeneous, marked by a heavy use of synthesized atmospherics, distorted guitar leads, and reverb-drenched drums. Despite a heavy reliance on “atmosphere,” most of the music here is surprisingly tightly wound: the guitar melodies of “Ripchord” and “Lost Horizon,” while occasionally admitting some improvisation, are restrained and unadorned. Such stiffly controlled playing at times makes the music sound a bit impersonal and detached – there are definitely moments when the album feels like it could use the burst of energy supplied by a mammoth guitar solo – but at the same time such a cold, mechanical quality may be integral to the band’s forlorn and lonesome aesthetic. Often times, however, Random Harvest sounds too slickly executed for its own good, the glossy production and performances at odds with the band’s lo-fi desert aesthetic.

While Random Harvest is certainly less kitschy and more sincere than some of the FODM’s past work, it suffers from a kind of aesthetic overkill: the melancholy sweep of a slide guitar melody backed by a synth drone may be effective one time around, but loses its potency when used too often. By the end of the album, things begin to sound somewhat stale and predictable – although the Queen-inspired dual guitar solo on “Nowhere to Go” should be enough to awaken the ears of any bored listener. Random Harvest occupies that dangerous ground between aesthetically coherency and redundancy; while it never falls flat, it’s not tremendously surprising or exciting either.

By Michael Cramer

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