Herman Dune Tell Me Something I Don’t Know

[Strange Moosic; 2012]

Styles: cutesy singer-songwriter indie pop
Others: Kimya Dawson, Jon Brion, Psapp, She and Him

When I close my eyes and think of all the pejorative connotations associated with the phrase “indie rock,” the mental image I summon looks strikingly like the band Herman Dune: a bearded white dude playing cutesy twee guitar pop, putting out albums adorned with crudely drawn cover art and music videos that prominently feature fuzzy muppet-looking things (and, for some reason, Jon Hamm). All that’s really missing is Zooey Deschanel, a pair of Buddy Holly frames, and… I don’t know, maybe a V-neck sweater? Now, normally, this is the part of the review where I say “But…” and then explain how Herman Dune totally makes it past my defenses and opens me up to their unexpected pleasures, but there is no “but.” I genuinely dislike this.

The French band, now a duo consisting of singer/songwriter/guitar-player David-Ivar Herman Düne and drummer “Cosmic” Neman Herman Dune, have a long, deep history. After years of relentlessly producing DIY tapes and albums in the 1990s, they caught the ear of the late, great John Peel, who brought them in-studio for six of his famous Peel Sessions. The ensuing years found Herman Dune bouncing from one indie label to another until founding their own in 2010. Their career has been characterized by spurts of restless creativity, releasing no fewer than five full-length albums between 2000 and 2003 and, more recently, a spate of EPs featuring their loveable Yeti mascot on the cover. Tell Me Something I Don’t Know is the latest in this series, taking its title and opening track from a single off last year’s Strange Moosic LP.

If you’ve followed the band at all up to this point, then you aren’t in for any surprises here. David-Ivar serves up the same gooshy twee pop melodies that have been Herman Dune’s bread and butter all along. The bongo-driven “Shadow of a Doubt,” the lovelorn waltz of “Wait for the Dead to Rise” — each of the songs are tightly constructed pop baubles, no doubt about that, but it takes powerful lyrics (or at least clever ones) to lend such weightless musical confections at least a measure of heft. Unfortunately, too many of David-Ivar’s lyrics run the gamut from offensively trite (“There are many movies/ About World War II/ It makes me very sad and then I think/ That’s how it was without you”) to wooden (“You show me a painting/ That you think is awesome”) to cliché (pretty much all the songs’ choruses).

I don’t want to come down too hard on such an inoffensive record, especially an EP, but I can’t help but see it as being part of the overall Disneyfication of indie aesthetics, where a banal sincerity stands in the place of honesty, solipsism in the place of introspection, and where any fleeting moment of darkness or uncertainty is rendered toothless through cheerful branding. Tell Me Something I Don’t Know might make a great soundtrack to a big studio indie film with quirky, scribbled poster art, but it won’t be spending any more time in my stereo.

Links: Herman Dune - Strange Moosic

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