Friends Of Dean Martinez

Lost Horizon

Release Date: 10/04/2005 · Format: CD · Catalog-No: GR 640

"Maybe there's not much to be said about an instrumental album." - Bill Elm

Maybe not, at least on the cosmic scale. But as Friends of Dean Martinez finishes up its tenth year of creating, playing, and recording, there remains a lot to be said about the band itself - its surprising longevity, its stately aesthetic, and especially its decade's worth of releases culminating this year with the exquisite Lost Horizon.Following On the Shore, the performance lineup of Friends of Dean Martinez began coalescing into the form it takes today: Elm on guitar and keyboards, Semple on guitars, and Andrew Gerfers on drums. It's this trio, for the first time without aid or need of sidemen, that created the music on Lost Horizon.

It makes the best kind of sense that Lost Horizon - Friends of Dean Martinez's tenth record in as many years - is not only the band's most confident record, but also its most cohesive. In most respects, this is the first time in FoDM's history that a stable group, one with a history of collaboration and several performances under its collective belt, has entered the studio to produce an entire album.

Taken individually, instrumental albums may, as Elm suggests, speak largely for themselves. And each FoDM album has indeed exhibited characteristic touches, like Random Harvest's murkier tonal colors and On the Shore's aggressively experimental conceits. But Lost Horizon's testimony is especially serene and rewarding since it sounds from the first notes like the work of musicians who've had time to internalize each other's strengths, and who've learned how to listen closely to each other throughout the album. The level of tight interaction on Lost Horizon feels both perfectly natural and hard-won, as in the interplay between the minor chord circles and gritty lead parts on "Dawn," the jittery interweaving of blistered Spanish progressions with skeletal percussion on "Heart of Darkness," or the austere plucked acoustic guitar and high-end electric fills on "Dusk."

That Lost Horizon is the work of the trio alone - no guest players - is understandably a point of pride with Elm. But one of the (perhaps) unexpected benefits of the band's recent stability is the new album's consistency even past the disparate styles featured on it - and Lost Horizon, it should be said, features virtually all of the performance styles in the band's playbook. The growling opening phrase of "Hidden Out of Sight" swerves into a hard-metal hook layered with a distorted wah-wah melody, while the clean and radiant lines of "All in the Golden Afternoon" move at a grand, unhurried pace. "Somewhere Over the Waves," opening with a simple three-note statement over a descending chord pattern, shimmers and flows with just the barest reverb effect smoothing out the whirling ambient noise that runs just beneath the music. "Somewhere...", incidentally, comes from Friends of Dean Martinez's recent composition and performance of a simultaneous score for Stuart Paton's 1916 silent film of Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, screened at Austin's Alamo Draft House Cinema. It's a project the band has undertaken before - a previous score for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari yielded part of the music on Random Harvest - but the unity of purpose on "Somewhere...", as on Lost Horizon itself, emerges from Elm, Semple, and Gerfers having had the time and space to play off each other's performance styles.

Once the basic tracks had been recorded and produced, the band handed the finished tracks off to veteran Austin producer Stuart Sullivan, who'd previously manned the boards for dozens of acts ranging from Jello Biafra and Junior Brown to the Meat Puppets and Sublime; Sullivan mixed the tracks into their final versions. "I have to give [Sullivan] total credit for the record's sound," says Elm. "He didn't even know our music, but it was great to hand it off to someone else and not know what we were going to get back." With a light touch of plate reverb and a little softening of the original music's dynamics via a mix-down-to-tape, Lost Horizon gained whole fathoms of depth; to hear the finished record seems to belie the fact that all this music was performed by only three players.

In case you were wondering, Lost Horizon's title is copped from the James Hilton book of the same name (as was Random Harvest before it). But where Hilton's book contrasted the mythical perfection of Shangri-La deep in the Tibetan mountains with the grotty workaday world we all inhabit, Friends of Dean Martinez's music finds the mythical in the everyday. That's not meant to be a sweeping philosophical claim, only an observation that Lost Horizon sounds like the familiar world taken apart and reassembled -the sort of music that begins in recognizable forms, but soon departs from our zones of comfort.

It's a quality Bill Elm attributes, at least in part, to the band's trust in its own instincts: "When you're recording, it's easy to think you can always go back and redo things. Our last record took about eight months to put together. And I noticed at the end, after all that rerecording, what I was doing was going back to the first version for the final mix. It felt like a waste of six months. This record was really drawn from our experience playing together over the last four years.

"You're probably at your best as a player, anyway, when you're not thinking about it," Elm muses. "That's when the real version of you comes out."

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1. Landfall
2. Dawn
3. Heart Of Darkness
4. Somewhere Over The Waves
5. All In The Golden Afternoon
6. Two Hundred Miles
7. Hidden Out Of Sight
8. Dusk
9. Departure