I Can Hear Music


Morr Music, 2013


REVIEW BY: Tom Haugen


James McNew is known these days as being the long running bassist for indie rock heroes Yo La Tengo. Before he had this position, he was a one man band called Dump. Dump put out a couple influential albums in the first half of the '90s, and he actually still puts out music today under that moniker, though not in as large of volumes, naturally. Germany's Morr Music took on the task of reissuing Dump's first two albums, complete with additional songs. I Can Hear Music, originally released in 1995, is my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 actually seeing the vinyl treatment for the first time in triple LP form, and the CD version is a double disc.

Now, there's DIY indie rock, then there's Dump's even more homemade version of it. The songs on I Can Hear Music were actually recorded onto a 4-track cassette recorder in a living room. McKnew even created makeshift instruments out of cardboard. This results in an unpolished listen that screams spontaneity, complete with primitive recording noises, mass distortion, and a very lo-fi feel.

Lead off track “Slow Down” is actually one of the speediest moments here, a jangly indie rock tune where McNew's voice sounds imperfectly perfect in a way that mirrors Jeff Humphrey. The indie-lite tune even comes complete with a whistle solo. Amazingly, despite the lack of contributors involved, there is much variety. “Jury Duty” is a largely instrumental wave of sonic noise where the vocals are softly introduced at the end, almost seeming like an afterthought. “Hope, Joe” is one of the strongest tracks present, an up-tempo lo-fi gem that wouldn't be out of place on an early Sebadoh record.

Forever known for his unusual covers, McNew selected “Morning Morning” (Fugs), “The Letter” (Fish And Roses), “Wanted Man” (Bob Dylan) and “Vienna” (Ultravox) to round of this already mixed bag of sounds. While a good portion of these tracks are McNew playing his guitar softly against his voice, there is much meandering into louder aspects as well; "Don't Let On" is driving and fuzzed out in a way that brings J Mascis to mind.

You can certainly hear traces of Yo La Tengo's work in these early songs, and fans of Lou Barlow or even The Wedding Present will find this endearing. While many modern day artists with plenty of technology at their disposal go to great lengths to sound this raw, Dump was just working with all he had available to him at the time. This is a great reissue from a lost gem.

Rating: B+

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