The Damnwells

PMR

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    8
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AllMusic Review by

Don't be misled by the delicately arranged muss-cuts and Converse All-Stars. The Damnwells, four skinny Brooklyn kids (one of whom being former Whiskeytown drummer Steven Terry), prove to be far more than the latest thing to walk down New York City's indie fashion runway. The Damnwells -- whose sound combines good, God-fearing guitar pop with an ample dose of NyQuil -- exhibit songwriting sensibility so accomplished it's scary for a national debut. PMR (an acronym for "Poor Man's Record") offers six addictive, disturbed songs that are accessible without being flagrantly imitative. Lead vocalist Alex Dezen (think Jeff Tweedy but less splintery; Ryan Adams without the twang) turns out layered choruses that melt off the palate and beg to stick in your head. Guitarist Dave Chernis makes the world a tranquil but unhinged place with dreamy, refracting chords in "H.C.E." and "Goodnight, Tonight." The bubbling synth backdrop of "While You Can" recalls a sleeker but angrier Wilco, driven by edge-of-chaos keyboard solos and Ted Hudson's rumbling bass. But the band is most refined on the midtempo "Have to Ask," whose introverted, leery opening bursts into a gravelly, punchy chorus, culminating with Chernis' tense arpeggios coasting over an understated backbeat. At every turn the Damnwells are fearless and desperate at the same time, brimming with pressure and ambivalence, resonating with depth and simplicity. And, pretentious blurbalism aside, they're rock that refuses to get old. Bottom line: the Damnwells do in six songs what many bands are unable to do in an entire career. They challenge the boundaries of conventional pop but explore their subtleties, giving listeners something more traditional yet less derived, and infinitely listenable.

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