Monday, March 23, 2009

A guilty pleasure: Bastards of the Beat by the Damnwells

There was a lot of chatter among the folk rock/singer-songwriter fan web presence in the years following the release of Bastards. I had a track or two, but never committed much scrutiny to a band whose appeal was basically hearsay. When I was fingering through the used bin sometime in 2005 or so, I saw Bastards for $1.99 and figured it was worth the measly investment. Didn't take long to hear why these guys were earning some fans. The album is littered with stellar hooks. Alex Dezen's vocals are rich and proud, a lot like Dave Beilanko from Marah. Also, my research is telling me that drummer Steven Terry was briefly involved with Whiskeytown.

The reason I'd label the Damnwells a guilty pleasure and not a hidden gem is because of the flashes of groan-inducing poppiness scattered throughout the album. "I Will Keep the Bad Things From You" has a nice feel, but the lyrics are dreadful. Also, Denzen's delivery often devolves to mainstream pop inflections, and it's a bit unsettling. For instance, the word "you" sounds more like "Yaaaaahw" which smacks of teen pop-star and drives me fucking nuts.

It's nothing revolutionary; they won't be trailblazers. And it's not really a man's music (college freshman girl comes to mind.) But it's not like they're John Mayer or Augustana or one of these other weenies on parade. There's a little bit of edge to it, even if it would do little more than nick your chin.

I feel like any seasoned listener can recognize the quality arrangements and well crafted hooks Bastards of the Beat has to offer. I'd posit that a solid pop-rock album is like an enema: You feel kinda goofy when it's going on, but when it's over with, you're cleansed like no other. Then it's back to the real soul food.

Here's a nice little compilation of the songs from the album:


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