Dean Wareham Dean Wareham

[Double Feature; 2014]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: psych pop, singer-songwriter, torch songs
Others: Nick Lowe, Real Estate, Bill Callahan, Neko Case, Amen Dunes

We’re humans, aren’t we? Even when we write screeds against consumerism, we are living it out. Air, water, space for waste. Why must we all live in a constant state of questioning these days? ‘Cause we want to transcend, or at least begin to know what transcending is like. Because we want things, even if the things in question aren’t convenient. It’s why we work and why we don’t work, all this frigging want. But we discern. We don’t want just any old thing. We want something in particular. What was it again? Oh yeah, some sounds. Always sounds. Big ones, small ones, groups of ‘em parsed out into songs that are then parsed out into alluring packages. Packages that open up and bring us something.

Something sweet. Almost all rock & roll musicians age into some kind of relative placidity, but Dean Wareham has consistently kept things from getting stale. Galaxie 500’s rough-hewn, low-key bliss still hovers around the edges of their front man’s solo work, but he weaves brightness and crisp production here in a way that feels essential and — dare I say — almost like an improvement. This vitality especially clicks with the lithesome, dryly funny “Heartless People.” The clever lyrics regarding the perils of sentimentality hit pretty close to home, while the dreamy low guitar figure that sweeps in the chorus provides a warmth that makes it all seem so ridiculously okay.

Something simple. I won’t bemoan the increasingly, confrontationally complex state of modern music, nor will I extol the virtues of a little do-re-mi. Things are the way they are, and one person’s eclecticism is another’s chaos is another’s who cares, it’s pop culture. But I think it’s safe to say we all still need the solace that the prettily ornamented verse-chorus-verse tune can bring. And Wareham has a tendency to bring that, without losing the unfettered, sleepily brilliant poise that is all his own. Whether he’s “stuck inside a drop-down menu” or playing and singing in three dimensions, his muse continues to bless the fickle music-loving world with an appealingly minor grace.

Something sad. Wareham’s voice has always belied a tenuous fragility. Whether in his usual flat nasal tenor or brittle falsetto, his is a voice that threatens to undermine its dreamy elegant surroundings. Long ago, he knew to let this be an asset rather than a liability, but every now and then, that balance becomes shaky and a tragic sort of beauty is glimpsed. Remember Cayce Lindner? Despite the shinier surrounding surfaces (and years and years of refinement), Wareham’s singing here contains the same kind of broken majesty. At its best, Dean Wareham is like a logical extension of Dean & Britta’s “Words You Used to Say” or Luna’s “Bewitched.” The man knows how to break some hearts. And while it never becomes overbearing, there’s always room for his delicate melancholy to break you down into a watery mess.

Something triumphant. The soaring uplift in lead-off single “Holding Pattern” is well-earned, even as it recalls some of the more generic and staid stadium pop of the last 20 years or so. At a glance, a fair share of these tunes can seem rather commercial, but when you hang out with them for a bit, they retain something essential that transcends their rote accessibility. That something seems to be space. In this sense, the man isn’t breaking new ground. The patience and stillness between the notes of every tune on here is according-to-hoyle Wareham. But the album’s success lies in its staying-power insulation. This is critic-proof stuff. It wants to get its mitts on you, but refuses to leave any greasy fingerprints. It’s a beautiful pop record, in its succinctness, its self-consciousness, and its sheer will to live. Ring the bells and blow the whistles: Dean Wareham’s still got the goods, and we still want the sounds.

Links: Dean Wareham - Double Feature

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