Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Next Year In Zion - Herman Düne

The fifth studio album from French duo Herman Düne was recorded in the legendary Exile on Main Street studios in Southern France, where the Rolling Stones decamped in 1971 to avoid paying taxes and finish the album of the same name. Herman Düne recorded the album on the same EMI desk borrowed from Abbey Road that the Stones recorded a large section of their roots influenced classic. Certainly Herman Düne draw upon the same canvas of influences; rock and roll, clues, country and soul.
Musically the album features the jazz inflected guitars, female backing vocals (with June Carter Cash as the archetype rather than the 60s girl group harmonies of the 1-2-3 Apple Tree EP), bourbon soaked horns and clipped drum beats from earlier recordings, replete with beautifully phrased solos and slide guitar that add texture and refinement to the proceedings. You have to wonder why the album was released in September, as its ambience is custom-made for a summer’s evening.
One thing that is immediately noticeable is singer David-Ivar Herman Düne’s delivery. While still a naive, yearning vocal style, tinged with regret, he appears to have grown in stature. David-Ivar’s vocals are less redolent of adolescence. Another improvement is the production. While fellow anti-folk artist Jeffery Lewis’ albums sound as though they were recorded in a bedroom with one guitar and a suitcase for drums, Next Year in Zion showcases a growing sophistication that distances them from their peers. What has always shined through on their tracks is their humanity, but on songs such as “When the Sun Rose up This Morning” or “On a Saturday” this is married to the sheen of the production.
There is one detrimental aspect to this emergent erudition. Previously they were a trio, until guitarist André Düne left after the recording sessions for previous album Giant, not even staying to tour the record. The songs on Next Year in Zion are perfectly crafted, but they do lack the musical complexity of the songs he would contribute to the band. A minor gripe, but it is clear that as a band Herman Düne are a very different proposition to the anti-folk band they started out as nearly a decade ago.
Instead Next Year in Zion belongs to a cultural and musical tradition that can be traced from Delta Blues, to Johnny Cash, Gram Parsons, Bob Dylan, and Leonard Cohen. However Herman Düne filter these traditional influences through Jonathan Richman-esque wry, observational lyrical preoccupations and Daniel Johnston’s grasp of melody. Thus a song such as “My Baby Is Afraid of Sharks” takes a traditional song structure, yet inverts our perceptions with the lyrical content.
John Peel was an ardent admirer of Herman Düne’s, and he is normally a good barometer for a band’s qualities. They recorded six sessions for Peel, including one at Peel Acres (a rare honour), while “Drug Dealer in the Park” featured in his Festive 50 countdown from 2000. Previously they have occasionally failed to live up to their billing, yet Next Year in Zion is a well produced gem of an album, focused and coherent, that firmly places them in the canon next to their idols. It is hard to find a weak track amongst the dozen here; the only slight complaint would be aforementioned uniformity between the songs but when they’re this charming, idiosyncratic and well crafted it appears curmudgeonly to carp. Next Year in Zion is avant-pop music for those who think Sticky Fingers, The Modern Lovers and Brighten the Corners are amongst the greatest albums ever produced.

This article was originally produced for To read the music review of Next Year In Zion by Herman Dune on the site, please click on the article title.

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