“I don’t wanna be your maybe 
Baby, let me drive you crazy 
I wanna be your dandelion 
Don’t you go leave me stranded 
I’m empty, I’m not second-handed 
If you give me a little time, 
I wanna be your dandelion”
The Damnwells, One Last Century

Since 2001, The Damnwells have produced a fine, fine collection of LPs with lots of alt-country, indie rock songs that are quite opposite of what a lot of other bands have cut in the same time. They’re that band that most fans would probably say – “Why aren’t they more popular????” because the radio-friendly factor is undeniably high.

Their sound is entirely tried-and-true (think Goo Goo Dolls), but executed so fully and smoothly that there’s tons of satisfying elements. Bright electric solos, steady and oh-so-familiar acoustic chord progressions, careful piano melodies or a female vocal harmony here and there. Production is entirely lined up to support the vocal, with the bass way low and guitar melodies up front. At their lyrical core, these are songs for the lost and lonely-hearted. They are sad songs about lost and far-away love, with weather metaphors and dramatic references to hearts and blood and bruises.

Given all this, The Damnwells sound pretty conventional, compared to the fitful rushes from hardcore and electropop genres we’ve seen at the front lines. This is radio rock of the 90s cut during the laptop-DJ aughts, suggesting that the fan base bands like to reach (young concert goers who bite at whatever’s trending) may not buy in.  So, who’s buying it? The silver lining here is the Internet always seems to have answers: Their last two records were released rather unconventionally, one as a digital download through Paste magazine and the other through crowdsourced fundraising on PledgeMusic. Now, The Damnwells seem to have found a base in fans of the likes of The Replacements, Whiskeytown, and The Gaslight Anthem.

Personally, I’ve found there is something really unpretentious about these songs that is completely comforting and lovely and also somewhat fascinating. Alex Dezen has a simple way with simple words, and an unyielding devotion to meter that makes for perfectly symmetrical verses, so not a syllable is out of place, whether in and out of rhyme. Unpretentious, but certainly not amateur. Some may say this type of lyric writing lacks creativity – but unless you’ve ever spent a night or two counting syllables to fit a melody, you can’t really judge the craft accurately because it is not always as easy as it the ear makes it sound.

Says something about songwriting, I think, that formula mastery is in and of itself a sub-category of the whole craft. You can break all the rules and do something completely different to change the game, or insert enough unconventional sounds and techniques to be interesting enough to set trends. Or, like The Damnwells, maybe you can find success by coloring inside the lines so clean and crisp that the really original thing about it isn’t any gimmick but the parts that come from you – and at the end of the day, that’s all we really create anything for, anyway.

“Is there something you’ve been waiting for
for a long time?
A stupid game where you’ve been keeping
score in your mind?

You write the books in your head,
I’ll keep the last days instead.
Can you calculate an even cure,
And a crime?

So you come around, a
nd we all slow down,

So you come around, I tried to wear you out

With my newborn history, a faithless eulogy,
And if I can’t keep you down, no one will.

I have seen the bones beneath the stare

of your eyes,
Have you traded in the yellow hair 
for cheap smiles?

Call you another doctor,
This one seems to think you’re just fine,
I have tasted all your sympathy,
And I don’t care.

So you come around, and we all slow down,
So you come around, and I tried to wear you out,
With my newborn history, a faithless eulogy
And if I can’t keep you down, no one will.

So you come around, and we all slow down
So you come around, and I tried to wear you out.”

~Newborn History
The Damnwells, Bastards of the Beat

I imagine I’ll learn a lot