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Dead Friends [Limited Edition] *
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  • Shawn David McMillen's early-2010 release for Tompkins Square found the guitarist continuing to explore an aesthetic pitched between acoustic blues and a never-quite-real movie Western sound -- if the movie were exploring settings more like Near Dark and Paris, Texas rather than The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, say. Perhaps it's McMillen's Texas background that helps define his work as a result, and the shadowy across-the-room feeling of songs like "For Carrie Brown" and "A Morning with Dead Friends" is as much a creation of careful arrangement and production as it is the performance in the moment. Gentle drones and bursts of what seem like found sound noise give Dead Friends the feeling of an aural documentary throughout its short length, a recording on the fly as the moment arose and as various approaches were explored that didn't limit themselves to one overarching style. A song like "The Moth," its careful core groove layered with scraggly mike bursts and what sounds like a storefront church singalong group (or two), is in near absolute contrast with "Night Train," whose steady piano part and skronking guitar wails feel like a burst of no wave inspiration transplanted to a new setting altogether. While predominantly instrumental or having vocals more as backdrop than at the core -- the very Ilyas Ahmed-like "Our Weather" being a fine example -- a couple of times Dead Friends places the vocals front and center, but even then it's almost more to set a mood. On "No Time Left in This Place," one of several songs featuring guest performer Ralph White (in this instance on fiddle), the occasional couplet enhances another field recording-style effort, a quietly reflective but still spirited song, while the breathing moans on "Frankenstein's Kiss" suggest more than lyrics might have done, especially with a striking title such as it has. ~ Ned Raggett
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