Review: Amen Dunes "Believe" Video

Amen Dunes/Damon McMahon’s “Believe” music video is akin to a sleepy ride down the highway on a family road trip at sunset—it is a beautiful All-American experience, but will have you blinking away tears only partly due to the wind whipping your face.

In this release with Sacred Bones Records, we are immediately sent on a trip down memory lane, and it is clear that the opening montage of home video footage is specifically McMahon’s. A rainbow, a hallway, a forest, a karate class with a benevolent U.S. flag looking over it all—each piece adds to a highly personal, yet appropriately distanced look into McMahon’s collection of memories.

The budding nostalgia is brought close to home when viewers realize that this video includes clips of McMahon’s mother, whom Pitchfork reports that the song is dedicated to. McMahon’s mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer shortly after he began recording Freedom under the Amen Dunes name, and this piece is an intimate, yet public homage.

Like a sob that cannot be held in, McMahon’s voice ebbs and soars with an urgency that powers the emotional heart of his lyrics. While his singing mastery contributes to the slow burn appeal of the song, it also creates an atmosphere of profound, vulnerable reflection within the video that simultaneously invites the viewer to do the same. I found myself thinking back to my own mother’s cancer diagnosis, and the single, shattering moment that I knew that I had seen my mother’s mortality—and that there was no going back.

In an interview with Vinyl Me, Please Magazine, McMahon discussed his decision to open up with such vulnerability on the tracks of Freedom: “The songs are about my family and kids I grew up with. I was gonna write these songs about, ‘I’m an Irish Jew and I’m a Virgo and I’m an underground musician, I’m not a pop musician… I’m a man, I’m a macho man, I’m a sensitive man.’ These are all things that we get very hung up on...Through my own practice, I’ve tried to connect with whatever existed before and what will exist after these little superficial identities that I hold onto.”

Glimpses of those multiplicitous identities arise throughout the video: McMahon himself is seen in a traditionally masculine white wife-beater and a gold chain, only to drop to his skivvies later on in the video for a sweetly flirtatious dance with a female guest in his apartment. In a series of shots that feel more like glances in-between the blink of an eye, McMahon is alone, then with his guest, then alone—we see a kiss, a caress, a glimpse of what could be—then McMahon is alone again, pondering over the temporality of it all.

The duality of McMahon’s masculinity can also be seen as he languishes on the music video’s set (a very, very nice apartment floor) and we eventually see him paralleled with footage of himself as a young boy, lying on his back on a stone pathway. With tenderness and reflection, McMahon’s visual metaphors perfectly accompany this ballad that equally acknowledges the hardship and tenderness of tough love—a coming-of-age, or reckoning-of-age song for anyone who, as the song says, “lived out on the wrong side.”

Catch Amen Dunes at the Crocodile on Monday, August 13.


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