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The Damnwells - Air Stereo Album Cover

The Damnwells - Air Stereo

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9.3
The DamnwellsAir Stereo
Release Date: August 15, 2006
Record Label: Zoe/Rounder

Air Stereo is the fourth release (second full-length) by New York’s passionate indie rock quartet The Damnwells. On the surface, they might seem like an average-sounding band with tight production, bubbly guitars, and infectious lyrics. What makes them stand out, especially being on an unknown label with little promotion? Their heartfelt emotion and energy woven into the other elements provides for an exceptional record. For those who heard the band’s previous effort, Bastards of the Beat (released through Epic Records), you will remember The Damnwells lacked a bit of a punch despite their solid songwriting. Air Stereo is a leap beyond anthing in their catalogue.

A standout on the new album is “Kung Fu Grip Kiss,” in which Dezen slides out of the shadow of Bruce Springsteen vocally while the rest of the band parries with a gaudy combination of saxophone, cello, and drums that will keep you humming along for hours. It is a radio-ready ballad beseeching you to hit “repeat”. Following is “I Am a Leaver,” which ditches the fancy instruments for a blaring guitar, feedback-heavy wailer of a song with a chorus as contagious as smallpox. Some of the lyrics leave a little to be desired, though. Switching to the other half of the album, “Golden Days” is another song that seems just removed from a Springsteen b-side. Here, Alex Dezen’s lyrics shine. “Let me hear the words you say/let’s go and get tangled in chains of golden days,” he implores. It won’t be long before you give yourself up to the delightfully soothing music of The Damnwells. Whether it is the straight-laced pop melody or the rhythmic drumming of Steven Terry (formerly of the Ryan Adams-fronted Whiskeytown), “Golden Days” is a perfect way to introduce any skeptics to The Damnwells and prepare them for the bliss-inducing “Louisville” which follows.

“Accidental Man” is one of the heavier pop songs on the album, as oxymoronic as that sounds. Witty and clearly tongue-in-cheek, the song gets the dancing juices flowing while forcing a smile or two. “I’ll be your accidental man/you’ll be my circumstantial lover/I’m here to ruin all your plans/I’m here to steal you from your mother,” Dezen announces as guitarist David Chernis and bassist Ted Hudson come into their own, setting the playful mood. It would be remiss to forget to include “Graceless” as a superb addition to the album. Starting out slowly, it takes about a minute for the soaring instrumentals, featuring the laudable return of the cello, to hook the listener. In fact, the only true faults of Air Stereo lie in the less pop-focused songs, such as “Keep A Little Organ” and “God Bless America”; the former doesn’t have the emotional impact of other tracks, and the latter turns into a classy but overwrought jam session. The Damnwells can kick out some great studio improv, but will likely turn off the new fans. The old ones who enjoyed Bastards of the Beat and prior might enjoy it.

2006 has become the year of the little bands that could. Since many bigger artists are underperforming and underwhelming listeners, we leave it up to the smaller artists producing underappreciated gems of albums for critics like myself to fawn over. Air Stereo is a fantastic addition to any listener’s music collection. It is neither too eclectic for mainstream music nor too radio-ready for indie to disavow The Damnwells. Instead, both sides can claim this quartet as their own. Will you?

Buy The Damnwells ' Air Stereo on iTunes

Track List01. I’ve Got You
02. Accidental Man
03. You Don’t Have to Like Me to Love Me
04. Golden Days
05. Louisville
06. Sell the Life
07. Shiny Bruise
08. Heartbreaklist
09. Kung Fu Grip Kiss
10. I Am a Leaver
11. Graceless
12. Keep a Little Organ
13. God Bless America
Listen to The DamnwellsMyspace | Official Site
This review is a user submitted review from Tony Pascarella. You can see all of Tony Pascarella's submitted reviews here.
 
Displaying posts 1 - 15 of 19
09:51 AM on 10/18/06
#2
FeynmanWannabe
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Glad to see this reviewed. You did a nice job with it Tony. I know you're a big fan of it, but the review seemed well-balanced. Great job.
09:56 AM on 10/18/06
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roxy
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Great review Tony.
09:56 AM on 10/18/06
#4
FeynmanWannabe
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I could very well see fans of The Format enjoying this album, but The Damnwells' influences cover slightly different ground and as a result they're a bit more country-rock (not in a bad way, at all). If pressed, I'd say a much rocking Limbeck. Give it a listen. Tony included a myspace link in his review.
09:59 AM on 10/18/06
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Blake Solomon
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YEAH! Im so glad to see this reviewed!
10:01 AM on 10/18/06
#6
Tony Pascarella
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For me, when I first heard about them, the phrase "country-rock" turned me off. I despise country music and have for quite a while. If you're like I was, give them a chance anyway. You'll be surprised, because (at least for me) "country-rock" wasn't the first thing that came to mind for me. The first song gives off a real Elton John vibe, and several sound like Springsteen, but the basic undertones are pop music.

Fans of The Format should like it, although it's not as cutesy sounding as Dog Problems.
10:03 AM on 10/18/06
#7
FeynmanWannabe
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For me, when I first heard about them, the phrase "country-rock" turned me off. I despise country music and have for quite a while. If you're like I was, give them a chance anyway. You'll be surprised, because (at least for me) "country-rock" wasn't the first thing that came to mind for me. The first song gives off a real Elton John vibe, and several sound like Springsteen, but the basic undertones are pop music.

Fans of The Format should like it, although it's not as cutesy sounding as Dog Problems.
I figured that'd be the case with some people, hence my Limbeck comparison.
11:00 AM on 10/18/06
#8
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I am on the music committee at the College of William and Mary, and the Damnwells are playing here (Williamsburg, VA) for FREE on Friday, October 20 at 5 PM. It's an early show, when it's still sunny, so come on out and watch a great band for nothing.
11:49 AM on 10/18/06
#9
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Great review Tony. I can sort of see the resemblence to The Format though I would have to say that The Damnwells are a bit more rocking. Check them out live... They put on a sick show.
12:00 PM on 10/18/06
derricklc22
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Glad to see this reviewed. You did a nice job with it Tony. I know you're a big fan of it, but the review seemed well-balanced. Great job.
Love these guys. They have put out solid records all along and this is their best yet.

Check out one of their old songs if you can find it somewhere:

"She's the NYC Skyline"
12:23 PM on 10/18/06
petey536
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awesome review, i just went to their myspace and listened to the songs they have up. im going to have to go and buy this cd
12:53 PM on 10/18/06
YourLatestVicti
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I am on the music committee at the College of William and Mary, and the Damnwells are playing here (Williamsburg, VA) for FREE on Friday, October 20 at 5 PM. It's an early show, when it's still sunny, so come on out and watch a great band for nothing.


I recomend everyone in the area go and see them live. I saw them not too long ago and they were absolutely fantastic, I couldn't ask for more out of a band's performance.
01:11 PM on 10/18/06
brorocklive
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They sound like Wilco meets Limbeck meets awesome.
01:13 PM on 10/18/06
backtothesound
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GREAT call. These guys are my absolute favorite. Though "Air Stereo" certainly deserves that 93%, check out "Bastards Of The Beat". It's superb. Great review, too. Although, it's only their second full length...they've have 2 EPs and 2LPs
01:15 PM on 10/18/06
PlusDanny
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Love love love this band and album Tony. Thank you so much for reviewing it and you're spot-on.

I'm glad you enjoyed it, but you mentioned some of the less pop-induced songs being less focused or something along those lines, but I think the break-out music into Keep a Little Organ and his vocals during the chorus are really amazing. It wasn't one I loved at the beginning, but it's really been hitting me lately, so revisit that one and just take it in sometime. I think it's a real treasure. There isn't a song I dislike on the album and it stays strong all the way through. I think a lot of people will be loving Sell the Lie and I Am a Leaver as well.

I've been pimping them in my av and subheader. ;)

(edit: Air Stereo is indeed their second full-length album)

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