Herman Dune - Strange Moosic Album Review
Given that the most noteworthy thing about Herman Dune's new album is the existence of an oddball music video for the single 'Tell Me Something I Don't Know', a promo which features professionally dashing Mad Men star Jon Hamm, it's tempting to search for parallels between the indie-pop duo's music and AMC's stylish drama. The sceptic might suggest that while they are very pretty and carefully thought out, both the album and television series are compulsively uneventful. They'd be wrong, but only because Mad Men is far better than that familiar criticism allows; Strange Moosic, on the other hand, genuinely is rather forgettable. A better comparison would flag up the shared use of the ideas and styles taken from decades past, and note that while Mad Men exhumes the past in order to bury it - in order to show that, aside from the classy clothes and the famous cocktails, the fifties was a horrible place in which to be young, female, gay, or black - Herman Dune are devoted to eulogising and paying tribute to their musical antecedents. Strange Moosic is a studious homage to a whole tradition of left-leaning indie rock; it chugs along pleasantly like a sanitised Jonathan Richman, cheerful and tasteful, but a little limp.
Strange Moosic is, then, both forgettable and backwards-looking. One does not follow from the other; there's nothing inherently wrong with situating yourself squarely in the faintly twee indie-pop tradition, especially when that tradition has produced some great bands and some great music. But Strange Moosic just isn't quite good enough to do that tradition justice. The songs are too pedestrian; the guitar-work is too tasteful; the lyrics aren't as interesting or surprising as they should be. The latter, in particular, is a problem, because it's clear that the duo want us to listen to their words: the production places the vocals front and centre, and their lines are printed in full in the album sleeve. But their tales of spies banished to Hungary are underdeveloped, their love songs lack oomph, and their accounts of existential ennui are uninspired. 'Tell Me Something I Don't Know' falls into the latter category, and it just sounds ironic: 'You say "Why don't you go down to the record store?"/I say every band feels like I heard them before', they sing. Well, Strange Moosic isn't going to solve that problem.
Still, it's not all bad. Lyrics aside, 'Tell Me Something I Don't Know' is a strong opening track, with a sparkling guitar line and sweet backing vocals. It's followed by the title track, which is confidently executed and punctuated by snatches of pretty guitar; it builds to a haunting chorus. From then onwards, the record slowly but inexorably drifts downhill; but there's nothing here which is dislikeable rather than merely unmemorable. It's not a bad record, just an undistinguished one; however, in a year which has seen something of a flurry of high-quality indie-pop releases, from PJ Harvey's monumental Let England Shake to John Vanderslice's unfairly ignored White Wilderness, there's no particular reason why you should pay attention to it.