Friends of Dean Martinez

Atardecer (Knitting Factory)

We humans are small and insignificant. To experience the sickening thrill of this knowledge, take a drive through Arizona's Painted Desert, exiting between Winslow and Two Guns down the six-mile stretch that ends at Barringer Meteorite Crater. As if you need to feel any tinier in the achingly vast, lonely desert, here's a 50,000-year-old, mile-wide, 570-feet-deep reminder of how much you don't matter. On Atardecer, the Friends of Dean Martinez take a grandiose, all-instrumental trip down the Barringer turnoff and teeter at the rim where outer space has left its indelible mark on the desert. The result is nothing short of agoraphobia-inducing. The Grand Canyon State has more than one hole in the ground at which to contemplate time and space, and despite best Friend Bill Elm's relocation to Austin, the group has never sounded more rooted in its former home of Arizona. Atardecer is as equally timeless as the Friends' first two Sub Pop releases, and though all the elements for kitsch are there -- Moog, harmonium, theremin, organ -- the merging of space and desert themes has left no room for irony. Where Fifties Les Baxter space-capade lounge glides through dishwasher showrooms with the sparkly promises of easy monthly payments, Atardecer floats over sandscapes, surfs in zero G, and dodges wayward metallic space debris. The white-noisey opener "Quickening" tears the irony factor apart at the seams like it was a timeworn road map, and from there, the harmonica, nylon-string guitar, and most of all, Elm's steel, scream that the universe is indifferent to your concerns. Beam me up, Billy, we're too self-important down here.

4.5 stars -- Kim Mellen

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