2008 found a number of fantastic local albums seeing release (and one, Tartufi’s Nests of Wave and Wire, seeing a delay that only means it will be my favorite album of 2009), and the best, by far, is Dame Satan’s Beaches and Bridges. It’s a stunning, expansive album that swells and breathes, building on impressive vocal interplay and tasteful musicianship.

[audio:http://www.bowsplusarrows.com/top/Dame%20Satan%20-%20The%20Struggle.mp3] Dame Satan – “The Struggle”

The album wastes no time establishing the mood, as opener “Downstream” begins with a far-off, decaying delay ticking down to a simple, catchy guitar line. Acoustic instruments pair with electric effects, commanding the listener’s attention through the subtlety of layering. The vocals float in, harmonize, and move along with the music, sweeping with the slide of a guitar, decaying into drones and disappearing into the ether. What comes in as a simple, sly composition that drifts around like smoke goes out as an anthem, as the drums, insistent toms played with mallets, kick in and the vocals soar in chorus.

This is still the same Dame Satan that made Ghost Mansion (another excellent album), but the band has expanded its sonic palette to encompass a new world of sounds, giving each song its own life in the process. Eerie delay moans and calls behind cutting banjo, pulsing bass locks with concise and powerful drumming, and guitars are delicately plucked, strummed, and shredded. Lead vocal duties pass from one member to another, while the others lend impeccable support.

There is a motion to the album, as one song begins, mutates, and leads into the next. Songs ebb and flow naturally, with deliberate structuring that provides plenty of room for inspired musicianship to stretch out and explore textural possibilities. There is the haunting, insistent chant of “Ghost Dance” and the gentle mix of emotions in “Suffering Daughter”; the stomp of “The Struggle” and the tension and release of “Country Thief”; the push and pull of “Oregon Trail” and the inviting chorus of “The Golden Iranian.”

These guys know how to write songs. At once dense and spare, this album has served me well at home, through headphones, and on long drives across the country. In the end, with as much as I have tried to explain how awesome this album is, I do not believe words can do it justice. Just go get it and make sure your friends have it, too.

This contribution was written by guest blogger Ben Thorne of Low Red Land.