Fans of the spare, arid beauty of the desert Southwest will find the new Friends of Dean Martinez 2-CD set On the Shore the perfect soundtrack to their lives.
The Friends were formed in 1994 as an instrumental side project by members of Giant Sand, but the glory of their sandy, spacious reveries soon turned what was “side” to “center.” Changing their name early on from “Friends of Dean Martin” to “Martinez” out of concern with displeasing Dino’s more vengeful “other” friends, the unit recorded two records for Sub Pop, two for Knitting Factory, and two for Glitterhouse, losing guitarist Joey Burns and vibe man John Convertino to (also brilliant ) Calexico along the way. FoDM is now led by Bill Elm on slide guitar and Mike Semple on guitar guitar – together or singly they write most of the tunes.
On the Shore, on the burgeoning NY label Narnack Records, begins incongruously with a blast of neo-60s acid rock with fuzzy bass and everything, with the vigor of Blue Cheer but the stately tempo of Vanilla Fudge, before settling into a jaunty Spaghetti Western-like beauty, “Alternate Theme.” Elm’s slide work lends an eerie swooping wail to this one and is never less than interesting, is often sweeping in its grandeur, and is sometimes stunning.
Disc one is a moving block of Spanish guitar, mid-tempo psychedelia with feedback and other art noise elements spicing the desert-at-sunset cinematic feel: huge reverb, the cubism of decaying distortion, and majestic conviction convey almost tangible landscapes.
Disc two sees the band move into the ambient space groove territory of early Pink Floyd: Friends of Syd Barrett. After a long, undulating drone intro sets the mood, the trance groove-con-guitar continues with remarkable consistency: aliens in shades down Coronas and bag rays at the oasis, aliens have a measured conversation in the Mojave with the ’72 Eagles (band, not football team), David Gilmour tunnels under the Gobi, etc, etc. – absorbing and wondrous, a space desert of the mind.