DW Dunphy – The First Thing That Came To Mind

posted in: July 2017, Music Review | 0

This album encompasses everything I love about modern, independent, underground music. I feel the same freeing elements on DW’s latest release that I was going through during the early stages of the Bloody Strummers album I took part of a few years back. Best I can describe the vibe going on is a blend of Garage Fuzz, 60’s Brit Invasion, Psychedelic Pop, as well as early 80’s to early 90’s Post Punk and a dash of Shoegaze. Spacious instrumentals are scattered throughout this 10 song LP that accomplishes a lot in under 40 minutes. Stand out tracks for me are the Gabriel-esqe, synth heavy, “Commercial One,” the Boom Bap instrumental “Ancients,” “I Get That From You” is a great piece of modern Post Punk, and the Garage-Fuzzy-Reverb drenched riffs on “Cut You Loose.” Great music on a hike in the woods with the dogs and some headphones, excellent for driving the rural outskirts, it’s reflective music start to finish. The First Thing That Came To Mind will be revisited in my vast library for sure and not lost in the “oh yeah, I remember that” file.

There is an ocean of independent artists out there, some amazing stuff when you dig in,  DW’s album is well worth your time, highly recommended! You can find the album on BandCamp, iTunes, and other digital outlets.

[2015 Independent | Purchase: dwdunphy.bandcamp.com]

I wanted to do something different on this review, so I asked DW to discuss the album track by track. I feel an artist can give the best review of his art. So here is the album in DW’s words.

From DW:

Before I dig into these, I feel I should first make everyone aware that, yes, this album will be available on cassette. And not cassettes made by me, my CD player and my TEAC tape deck either. These will be the real deal. It’s exciting and will hopefully exonerate me after the fiasco that was the publicized but ultimately unfulfilled 8-track edition of Test Test Test.

Please Listen Carefully To The Following As Our Menu Options Have Changed 02:15

I wanted to open the record with a poppy, uncomplicated track. The majority of the record is just laden and fraught, and I wanted to start with a drink of water first.

There was a bit of experimentation going on, especially at the bridge. I wanted to put just a light bit of phasing on the guitar. Instead the darn thing went into orbit, but I liked the uplift it gave things, so I left it. That’s my favorite mode for working. I don’t like hammering away at “perfection” because you never get there. Things become mechanical and you resent the process. This track happened fairly naturally and I appreciated not having to sweat (too much) blood over it.

Commercial One 03:43

I’ve never sounded like a pop star and so I’ve never pretended to be a pop star. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told to do something or other because it will get me noticed. That’s not how it works, but life is short…much too short to actually attempt explaining this. So this song applies some rather modern pop trappings with a bit of attitude thrown back. “Is this what you wanted?”

The beat was made with an online rhythm generator meant to mimic an old 808. the original intention was to layer real drum sounds over the loops this online generator made, but the emulator’s cycles were always slightly off. The Internet, although it seems to function like a “real time” machine actually isn’t. There’s latency. You can’t witness it until you do something like this and then pair it to a metronome and see how far off you are. So I abandoned the real beats and stuck with the synthetic. Ideologically it actually suits the premise of the song better anyway. Call it serendipity.

Those Who Exalt Themselves Will Be Humbled (Galloping Hooves Of Eternal Hellfire) 03:31

So I wanted to then take that same beat and then throw buckets of ordinance at it. The Biblical verse that comprises the title is best translated as “pride goes before a fall.” I have no idea what inspired me with that one.

The guitar assault probably was inspired by either Godspeed You Black Emperor or Swans. It’s that vanishing point between the note and what the note is meant to express, and then just the volume of the wail. You can have the most eloquent soliloquy about why you are angry, but sometimes it is more effective to simply scream monosyllabic angst. You’ll get your point across.

No Lite 02:19

I love the old punk stuff. This is just some old punk playing in an old punk style. I think I got off a couple of nice verbal barbs in here too. And that was always a neat trick in (particularly) the old U.K. punk songs. Those musicians, as raw-bones as they claimed to be, had fantastic vocabularies and knew how to construct lyrics that were at once rude purges but also had layers of double meaning backing them up. That’s not to say I didn’t appreciate the U.S. variations. I did, but frequently they were exactly what they said they were. At least they were honest about it.

Ancients 04:09

A nice trudge. A marching column. It feels like Spartans gearing up for a battle. There isn’t a whole lot of subtext to be found beyond I wanted a thick-necked instrumental with a meaty guitar sound.

I Get That From You 02:39

Relationships, man. I tell ya. The phrase existed before the song did, and that’s kind of the miracle of songwriting. There isn’t, and shouldn’t be a formula to it. Sometimes the words dictate the music, and sometimes the music calls upon you to come up with words.

In this case, it’s the idea that when a relationship goes sour, what you get from your partner is all the stuff you’d be better off not having at all. You love her but she makes you feel like a microbe. Or, as David Gilmour once sang, “Was it love or was it the idea of being in love?”

The guitar heroics came late in the fourth quarter. The glitchy guitar pattern that’s threaded throughout the song was always there. I wasn’t sure the tune needed that big coda until the first “final” was typed on the mixdown. What I thought might have been overkill now seemed to be missing something. Oh, okay. We thought we were done, but no. A week later the guitar and pedals were back out to put the last kick in those pants.

The First Thing That Came To Mind 04:03

The proggiest song on the album, I suppose. Anyone who knows me knows I love that symphonic instrumentation. They also know that I don’t have the money to contract an orchestra…not even an oboe. So synthetic orchestras had to suffice again. In all I think it still holds up, and I like my solo in the bridge a lot too. I didn’t nail down that Brian May tone like I aspired to, but I think you can hear what my intentions were.

Faith is fragile. We hold on to it because we want to, not because it compels us to. I also think you have to constantly question it for it to be worth anything. Furthermore, you have to look at these things as you, alone, not as an organization. Organizations have an easy way of deciding a little murder is okay for the greater good. Some lies are fine. Some prejudices are forgivable in the grand scheme of things provided we’re all agreeing to this. Sometimes faith requires you to step away from the organization and say, just because the state doesn’t charge you taxes doesn’t confer upon you infallibility. Your status doesn’t make you holy. Sometimes the hive is diseased, and in order to save what you believe is right, true and, sure, holy, sometimes you have to leave the swarm.

I don’t think I’m going to win any Dove Awards for that sentiment.

Aspidistra (The Birds Are Circling) 05:31

This song is really the saddest on the record. I wanted it to be that way. An aspidistra is a plant, it is rooted to the ground, and if the birds are circling above, they’ll eventually come down and rip you apart. Nothing you can do about that. I thought I conveyed that sense of being trapped, of being bound up in situational futility just because of who or what you are.

I also called it “Aspidistra” because that kind of reminds me of the word “asphyxiate.” I remember as a kid my mom would take us to the video store to rent movies. One of the few stores we frequented wasn’t the most discriminating as far as the stock went. They had a lot of b-movies. One of them that I recalled — only from the box — was a movie called Asphyx. It starred the comedian Carol Kane in what, I guess, was a fairly unfunny psychological horror movie. That box haunted me. Here I was, renting Spielberg movies and Disney cartoons, and week after week, there was the box for Asphyx haunting me. You now know more than you actually need to know about me.

Cut You Loose 05:48

This is the oldest song on the record. It was the proper first song, but also the primary backing track dates to around 2013. Why I never completed it back then is lost to the mist of time. I want to think it was divine providence. I had three scenarios in the song and all three circled around the same idea: the disposability of human beings. The first is the job that shucks you away like so much corn husk after years of service. The second is the love relationship that severs ties, as Earth Wind and Fire once sang, after the love is gone. The third is the sickly or aged who only seem to gain proper attention after the death, when it is safe to cry about them and not be burdened by responsibility for helping in any way.

Two guitarists drive the sound of the song, and they arrive years apart. When the track was initially recorded, I was listening to a lot of Lindsey Buckingham. He’s such a great and underrated guitarist. He regularly is overshadowed by people he has worked with (re: Stevie Nicks). But I encourage everyone who loves great guitar playing to revisit his work and listen to what he’s doing. The soloing on the way out, although pretty crude, is me pretending to be Buckingham wailing on the close of “Go Your Own Way.”

Years later I had finally written lyrics and put down the vocals. When that was done, the whole song felt somewhat incomplete. It was good and it was almost there, but I needed an emotional rope to drag the rest across the line. The coda, although sounding nothing like AC/DC, does utilize the string pluck technique Angus Young used at the opening of “For Those About To Rock, We Salute You.”

Transcendental Mathematics (Improvisation) 01:24

This was going to be the end of the album. It is the simplest track and acts as a sort of happy ending to a record that leans heavily on my dark side. It reminds me of a southwestern cantina acoustic trio, plucking out little odes to sunsets and dust, thus that closing statement I presumed it would be. It wasn’t the case.

Your Call Is Important To Us! Please Stay On The Line And A Representative Will Be With You Momentarily. 02:13

What did I say about serendipity? So, I have some very old recording software on my family’s home PC. It has recorded everything I’ve done since 2003 with only a couple of exceptions. And like an old fusspot, sometimes it wants to be ornery. In one of the many final mixes for the opening track, the percussion was dropped right out. I said a few things I regret in a very loud voice, but then I listened to it again. The mood was different. It wasn’t propulsive like “Please Listen Carefully…” It seemed — oh, I don’t know — more thoughtful. It was the wisdom of experience after the knowledge gained from innocence, or having had too many cups of coffee. I went back into the mixing part of the software, intentionally dropped the beat out, raised the synths up and laid down another synth line to give it that extra heft.

I didn’t intend for the record to end this way, but oddly, it seems the record itself intended to end this way. Who am I to argue?

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