Like many other young bands of the ’80s, New York’s Das Damen cavalierly crossed decades of musical influences to inbreed contemporary whateverism with ’60s acid rock, ’70s arena metal and ’80s post-punk. The quartet relied on loud guitars, unrestrained energy and college educations to produce music of volume and intelligence — if not always impact.
The group’s debut EP, released on a label run by Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore then reissued by SST, offers six badly mixed long songs that are noisy but fun. Roaring guitar chords, above-average vocals, solid drumming and an invaluable sense of dynamics balance off the unfocused sonic wash and formless songwriting.
The dodgy sound quality on Jupiter Eye is similarly haphazard, but the album reveals enlarged stylistic ambition and sophistication. With the shambling electrified chaos of live improvisation, hard-driving instrumental sections are enthralling; the poorly recorded vocals are effective additions only some of the time. “Girl with the Hair” and “Name Your Poison” find a functional equilibrium; the mild-mannered “Do” offers a most appealing low-key antidote. Jupiter Eye contains all the ingredients for excellence, but Damen is still fitting the pieces together. (A good producer wouldn’t hurt.)
The well-rehearsed organization and clear, balanced audio fidelity of Triskaidekaphobe removes some of the rampant wildness in favor of syncopated hard-rocking power and disarmingly melodic tunes. “Bug” and “Candy Korn” are pop songs with feedback; “Spider Birds” crosses Lynyrd Skynyrd with Cheap Trick; “Reverse into Tomorrow” updates sprightly power-pop with augmented chords and a knee-twisting time shift; “Pendant” takes a driving and textured Hüsker Dü approach and cuts it up with an unexpectedly delicate bridge. Though this impressive LP diverges out of focus, it raises the chances that Damen’s growing bag of tricks would eventually yield a completely satisfying record.
When certain parties and their legal representatives discovered that “Song for Michael Jackson to $ell” — one of the four tracks on the Marshmellow Conspiracy pink-vinyl 12-inch — was, in fact, “Magical Mystery Tour,” the record was withdrawn from the market. Too bad. Although the song doesn’t get much respect from the absurdly accented vocal performance, the elongated psychedelic finish is an amusing display of one generation’s interpretation of another’s trippy noise. (After the dust settled, SST reissued the three remaining songs — including two from the previous LP, one in a new version featuring ex-MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer — as a 12-inch and a CD-3.)
Mousetrap put Damen one step closer to demi-monde greatness. The songs (especially on the West Coast side) are by far their best (“Sad Mile” has a killer chorus; the Blue Cheerish “Demagnetized” and the gently tuneful “Hey, Angel” are also highlights); the band’s instrumental work and arrangements are both better developed and more varied than ever. A better Mousetrap to be sure, the album solidified Damen’s stylistic development.
Recorded live at CBGB in early 1990, Entertaining Friends has good sound and a fine retrospective selection of album tracks, but the warts’n’all performances are totally uneven, fluctuating between potent waves of confident wah-wah power to wobbly vocals and arrangements on the brink of collapse. Damen’s live performances aren’t exactly peanut butter consistent, and this live document is all too accurate. The CD adds a nifty cover of Television’s “Friction.”