Friends of Dean Martinez – Lost Horizon

I had been hearing of the band Friends of Dean Martinez for a long time it seems, but I never made a point of hearing its music. I probably assumed that with a name like that, its sound would be lounge-y or just plain jokey. Yeah, “judging a book by its cover” and all that can be a bad thing, because now that I’ve heard the band, I really like what they’re doing.

Lost Horizon really takes its time revealing itself. Sometimes sounding like an Americana version of Codeine and sometimes sounding like the soundtrack to a Western or a surf movie, FODM knows how to craft and sustain a mood – an important skill to have when you’re writing instrumentals and you’re not a prog-rock band (who keeps you interested by flashing its chops all over the place). FODM instead starts with very basic guitar lines or keyboard lines and builds a lot of space around them. Bill Elm’s steel guitar has a richness and bite to it that moves it outside its country-tinged heritage, while Mike Semple’s guitar builds simple, lilting melodies on top of it. Drummer Andrew Gerfers knows when and where to emphasize his contributions, happy most of the time to cede the spotlight to the others.

The opener, “Landfall,” gives you eight minutes of desert beauty. The distorted, contorted – but always flowing – guitar melodies rarely repeat, unfolding into a long monologue. Or maybe more like a travelogue if you use your imagination. The next track, “Dawn,” sounds like a patient, acoustic Come on Die Young track from Mogwai. FODM picks up the tempo and throws in some spaghetti-Western noodling for “Heart of Darkness,” by far the liveliest of the songs here. By this time, the third track of the album, you’ve heard what FODM can do. You spend the rest of the album hearing the musicians explore their sound and their compositions with thought and care.

The sound quality here is uniformly excellent, but I guess that kind of quality comes with 10 years of experience (although only Elm remains from the original lineup, as others have been called away to their other projects). FODM knows how to capture its sound to its best effect. Hearing Lost Horizon makes me wonder what I’ve been missing by not hearing its other nine or so albums. The good news about discovering a band after it’s well into a career is that you then have an entire back catalog to explore.