Friends of Dean Martinez – On the Shore

Originally started as a side project for a handful of Giant Sand members, Friends of Dean Martinez (formerly Friends of Dean Martin who wisely changed their name before lawsuits ensued) evolved into a full-time project and underwent several line-up changes over almost 10 years of releases on assorted labels. Their current line-up still features ex-Giant Sand members Bill Elm and Mike Semple on steel- and regular-guitar respectively, plus David Lachance on drums and assorted guests joining them.
With On the Shore, their latest album, the band has crafted perhaps the perfect double-disc soundtrack to a film that hasn’t been created. On two discs, the Texas by way of LA and Arizona band has captured the feel of the dusty west, the sun-baked deserts, and the wide-open expanses of the mid-west. As if recognizing the soundtrack feel to the songs, titles include “Main Theme” and “Alternate Theme,” and the opening track even starts with the sound of a tape running, leading me to wish On the Shore was a movie to go with the images created by these sprawling instrumentals. As much a part of indie rock as spaghetti Westerns and acoustic guitar experimentation, On the Shore is a lengthy yet wholeheartedly enjoyable romp through the wide open expanses of desert and the minds of some talented artists.
The band includes everything from loud, angry rock numbers (“Overload”) to very soft, even jazzy numbers, like the dreamy “For All Time.” The drifting, Western-themed themes on disc 1 definitely have the feel of a Western movie, riding acoustic guitar, plodding yet deliberate bass, and some warbly strings and steel guitar. The band includes long, often spiraling soundscapes, like “Through the Whine,” each unique and surprisingly deep, built around warbling guitar, acoustic and steel guitars, intricate yet soft drumming, and studio effects that capture a warmth and stark beauty. There are also some very rich, very deep and well-crafted songs here. The lovely if desperate feeling “Wichita Lineman,” filled with classical guitar and more of those unique effects, is a prime example.
The second disc starts hauntingly, and it has a darker overtone throughout; perhaps if disc one was the desert in day, this is the desert at night. There’s a much thicker guitar- and organ-driven sound to “And Love to Be the Master of Hate,” and a heavier use of distortion and bass (perhaps cello as well) on “On the Shore.” There’s also a bit of a Spanish or Mexican flare to the guitars on tracks like the brilliant “Time’s Not Your Friend” and the quiet closer “Cahuenga.” The band also explores their softer side with the hauntingly seductive “Indian Summer” and soothing, dreamy, almost surreal “Under the Waves.”
Despite the fact that the tracks on disc 1 appeared on the band’s two most recent European-based releases, both discs flow together beautifully, moving from the softer soundtrack feel of disc 1 to the darker yet equally beautiful tone of disc 2. Elm’s pedal steel is rich with reverb, creating the band’s trademark warbly sound that gives these moody instrumentals their most unique quality. This is great stuff for long distance driving, lazy Saturday afternoons, or time spent shooting cacti in the desert.