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Music Review: Herman Dune – Next Year In Zion

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The phrase "cult following" has always interested me. No, I’m not going to shave my head and preach about the end of time, but the saying still attracts me.

Let me explain my reasoning. In a world where "mainstream" suggests having some otherwise average commerciality rammed down your throat, it sometimes pays to delve into the often rewarding world of bands that have established cult followings. When you set off on such an exploration, you'll find that you either get it or the music just leaves you bewildered or uninterested.

Living in France, I encounter plenty of off-the-wall, quirky, and downright weird bands. However, they rarely break out of the Bastille and prosper in New York. However, one band that has done just that — and over several years gaining a cult following in the process — is the Parisian duo, Herman Dune.

Comprised of singer/songwriter/guitarist David-Ivar Herman Dune and drummer Neman Herman, the band had released five albums as well as countless homemade CD-R’s at concerts before they auspiciously caught the attention of none other than the late great John Peel.

They then soon moved from playing ad hoc street gigs in New York to selling out the Olympia in Paris.

For their latest album, Next Year In Zion, released on October 13th on City Slang/Co-operative Music, Herman Dune have recruited the John Natchez Bourbon Horn Players (Arcade Fire, Beirut), guitarist Dave Tattersall (the Wave Pictures), and the Babyskins on background vocals.

Often melancholic, sometimes amusing, and always engaging and entertaining, Herman Dune have served up a refreshing treat here, basically doing their own quirky thing and doing it brilliantly. Songs that draw from Americana and European folk are presented in a charmingly modest way, the approach leaving their clever lyrics — soaked in irony and dry humour — to shine through.

David’s warm voice deals with happy themes, such as on “When The Sun Rose Up This Morning,” as well as darker ones like “Lovers Are Waterproof,” which is delivered in a deceptively upbeat tempo.

Throughout Next Year In Zion, the addition of brass adds a splash of color, enriching the already engaging songs, including the superbly understated, “My Baby Is Afraid Of Sharks,” “Baby Baby You’re My Baby,” and “Try To Think About Me (Don’t You Worry A Bit),” all of which are also delightful childlike songs of love. As well, “When We Were Still Friends” basks in Tijuana style brass.

The title track particularly stands out, and, along with “My Best Kiss” and “Someone Knows Better Than Me,” they paint scenes and characters effortlessly.The album ends with the excellent “(Nothing Left But) Poison In The Rain,” which, despite its warning about the state of the environment, is a strangely uplifting song.

With Next Year In Zion, Herman Dune offer up music that crosses genres and cultures in ways that are engaging and offbeat yet stylish. Consider me a member of their cult following.

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About Jeff Perkins