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Listen to Friends of Dean Martinez!

Anyone who's from Arizona, like myself, will most likely have the following reaction when they hear anything about Tucson: "Booooring...."

Normally I would agree. Is there really more to Tucson than U of A? And yet, this listless city is the birthplace of one of the most underrated post-rock groups I know of, Friends of Dean Martinez. Now, the indie community has plenty of post-rock/instrumental artists to wade through...Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Do Make Say Think, The Album Leaf, Dirty Three, etc. And many of these groups have done very well, despite writing music completely antithetical to songcraft: prolonged, restrained, lyric-less and inaccessible opuses. For instance, Mogwai worked with Clint Mansell in scoring Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain, Explosions in the Sky composed the soundtrack for Friday Night Lights, Godspeed You! Black Emperor's "East Hastings" was featured in 28 days later. I guess there's this trend of post-rock music being integrated into films. And it works very well.

That said, does Friends of Dean Martinez bring anything to the table in the face of these instrumental juggernauts? Absolutely. I wouldn't claim outright that they are better artists than the aforementioned groups, but Friends of Dean Martinez are by no means derivative or lackluster. And after 13 years and 9 LPs, they maintain that difficult balance of being innovative without compromising artistic identity. But they're still nameless, even within the underground circles of music enthusiasts. I don't really know why. Perhaps it's the cumbersome stage name they carry, which probably incites a "Who's on First?" scenario every time it's brought up:

"Hey, have you heard of friends of Dean Martinez?"
"Who? I don't know who that is. Does he have no friends or something? How sad."
"No, they're a band"
"Oh, what are they called?"
"Friends of Dean Martinez"
"No...like, what do they call themselves as a band?"
*slap*

But a lot of (in fact, most of them) post-rock bands have longwinded names. It might just be the misleading surname "Martinez," which initially made me think of a mariachi band (certainly not the case). Or it could be the fact that "Friends of Dean Martinez" sounds like one of those temporary support groups that play at local bars to raise money for a buddy in chemo therapy. Or it could be that Tucson stigma.

Maybe everyone else just thinks FODM sucks. But I'm still going to try.

Now, FODM does not have the operatic orchestration of Godspeed, the vicious dynamics of Mogwai, or Explosion's angelic guitar riffs, but they are champions of mood and sonic scenery. Their music is frequently described as evoking desert landscapes, but not in a pejorative sense. Some tracks may feel forlorn and desolate, but they carry an allure of tragic grace. Some songs are markedly sinister, while others are downright gorgeous. The group also has interest in hispanic culture, as evidenced by some of their more rhythmic songs and occasional, Spanish song titles. In addition, they clearly enjoy the retro feel (they have a whole album titled "Retrograde"), and as a whole, FODM can come off as ironic, but it's never destructive. Stylistically, FODM is pretty consistent. The tempo for most songs is pretty gradual; in fact, while some are rather sluggish and boring, the grave movement often contributes to an endearingly barren atmosphere. Instrumentally, acoustic and/or steel guitars are very common. Above all, a yearning slide guitar is usually center stage, stringing out a melody to tie a song together. In essence, most of FODM is pretty western sounding. Pianos and string sections are occasionally used, and FODM's later recordings feature more synth-work. On rare occasions, Friends of Dean Martinez demonstrate their versatility with a surprisingly disparate number, being either jarringly experimental or just mind-blowing.

However, as with most post-rock groups, they require patience from the listener. But they may not be for you if you don't like subtlety. Unlike Godspeed, Mogwai, or Explosions, abrupt changes and extremes in rhythm or dynamics are rare. Their stability in is more like The Album Leaf.

Anyway, if you have a hunger for more instrumental artists, or just feel adventurous/curious, give Friends of Dean Martinez a shot. Their latest album from 2005, Lost Horizon, which is on KSCR's new wall, was my gateway to their music. The latter half of the opener, "Landfall," is particularly phenomenal, but, like most of the album, is quite unlike the rest of their music. As of right now, their 2000 release, "A Place In The Sun," might be my favorite FODM album. It has good variety and some gripping, haunting tracks, although 2004's "Random Harvest" might be their most endearingly dark LP. I would suggest any of those three to start with.