Damnations

March 7

"I was in People magazine, and I'm still busing tables at Stubb's," said Damnations singer-bassist-keyboardist Amy Boone as we stood together at an Austin club last spring, being bored to death by J. Mascis and Mike Watt. Grinning, she turned and added, "Isn't there something wrong with that? I'm not complaining, really..." Her voice trailed off, swallowed up by the white noise cascading from the stage in stagnant sheets of shit. On that night, smack in the middle of the annual South by Southwest schmooze-it-or-looze-it media conference, she had every right to bitch: Boone and sister Deborah Kelly (the Exene to Amy's, well, Exene) and Rob Bernard released a magnificent piece of strum-and-twang in 1998, Half Mad Moon, on Seymour Stein's once-potent Sire Records label, which had since been reduced to ash by mergers and morons. The Damnations (now without the "TX," thank God) were, this time last year, sitting on a solid rock: They had completed Where it Lands, another record that sounds like something X might have made were it fronted by Paul Westerberg and backed by Credence Clearwater Revival and produced by the Everly Brothers. But Sire, which wanted nothing to do with the Damnations, stubbornly refused to liberate the band from its shackles. The Damnations, it seemed, were just plain damned.

In the end, the label cut a deal with the band and let it assume control of the masters (never has a music-biz term been more ironically coined), and the result is yet another gem masquerading as a dirty lump of coal. The self-released Where it Lands, like its predecessor, exists in that space-time continuum where everything old sounds like the day after tomorrow--even Doug Sahm's "Wanna Be Your Mama," which greatly benefits from a woman's touch, or the Minutemen's "Corona," sadly known these days as the "theme song" to MTV's jackass. The Damnations, a band of singers and songwriters (like, oh, The Band), make a beautiful mess: Pretty things press up against rowdy shitkickers like desperate lovers way past closing time, and the result's one of those records you put in for long drives to nowhere in particular.

Damned if I could tell you what any of the songs are about (says here in the press notes that "Quarter in the Couch" is about "finding a song" beneath "a few cushions," or something), but that's hardly the point; like you people singing along to Dylan have any idea what he actually means. The thrill of listening to the Damnations comes in the commingling of sounds--Amy's muscular roar tangled up in blue Debby's stuck-in-her-throat rasp, for instance, or the way this outfit gives country back to the punks who used to play with pistols. You just want to turn it up and drown out the rest of a world so obsessed with labels and genres; you want to ride it forever, till the shot-ta-shit engine falls out of the rickety van somewhere between Temple and West. Where it Lands' cover sports a view from a rearview mirror; this is a disc--and a band--just looking to ramble.

 
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