This debut from Dams of the West - aka Vampire Weekend drummer Chris Tomson - is another send up of the state of the USA in 2016. What elevates it above the scores of similar fare is his penchant for vivid lyrics, lush melodies and the Americana influences that fuel the pounding instrumentation. At its best, ‘Youngish American’ exists at the nexus of day-job classics ‘Giving Up the Gun’ and ‘Unbelievers’, offering glimpse of Chris’ massive potential to be an engaging solo star.
There are some stylistic similarities to bandmate Chris Baio’s own solo foray, ‘The Names,’ in Tomson’s penchant for building tracks around thumping, uptempo percussion, but where Baio employs house and electronic elements, Tomson’s sound has touches of post-punk and new wave that are employed well on tracks like ‘Will I Be Known to Her’ and ‘Pretty Good WiFi’.
From a thematic standpoint, Tomson is committed to exploring his homeland with a lens wide enough to fit both enduring stereotypes and things that symbolise the country’s dizzying descent over the past year. ‘Tell the Truth’ deals with the ‘post-fact’ nature of politics, and Chris works to capture the mindset that allows someone to exist without questioning obvious falsehoods. “Far from her cloistered yard, there’s so much evil / With unfamiliar names and where simple things are illegal,” he sings.
His probing doesn’t always work quite so well though. The central question of ‘Flag on the Can’, “When I drink a Bud Light do I love America? / Or only when there’s a flag on the can?” comes off a bit like two high college kids shooting the breeze at 3am, though the track does have a strong melody.
In fact, Chris’ ear for melody and his ability to layer is at the heart of what makes ‘Youngish American’. Single ‘Death Wish’ is absolutely gorgeous, with distorted piano and chugging guitar chords. Same for the sweeping ‘Polo Grounds’, which adds cinematic strings and reverb to Chris’ voice to make it almost otherworldly.
Chris finds a mission statement and a clear sonic formula on ‘Youngish American’ that bodes well for future Dams of the West records. Right now it’s smart of him to focus on “[fixing] the fixable things,” so to speak, but with some more reps as a solo act he’ll be able to make a record that matches his clearly massive ambitions.