Vampire Weekend drummer Chris Tomson, picks up the guitar as Dams of the West, his first solo project. It has yielded the thoughtful and sardonic Youngish American, an LP that speaks to the heart of any newly turned 30-something, reassessing life—but in a manner we can all relate to as we approach a milestone decade and our cake gets over-crowded with candles.
It was written when Tomson found himself on hiatus from his regular gig and just after he got married. It deals with the inertia of suddenly finding yourself at home without the routine of being on the road. The 32-year-old described it as “the bullshit that’s going on inside my head.”
He contemplates fatherhood, combats falsehoods and comes to terms with the neuroses of being a white man writing sad songs. It might seem indulgent if not for the fact that Tomson does it with a delicious dry humor. He deftly hones in on the quotidian little things that expose a larger, more potent truth.
The most poignant is “Death Wish,” which benefits from the prettiest of watery melodies. “Must have some kind of death wish, didn’t really start to floss till when I was 31.” It’s like a Seinfeld episode obsessing about the minutiae but speaking to a greater insecurity like having to grow up and worry about mortality.
In the chorus, he sings: “It feels like the ranch in Montana I once worked on/ When I learned when you butcher a cow/ It’s gross so try to keep your gloves on.” Is it a slight at a generation that is often given a hard time for not wanting to get their hands dirty? He offers an explanation: “I’m not perfect/ I just want to fix the fixable things.” Fair enough. Our hero is forced to adjust expectations and make do with a smaller sense of entitlement.
On title track he revels in the domesticity of a stable marriage: dinner parties, ancient grains and buying tampons at Rite Aid. On the “Inerrancy of You and Me,” he never takes any of this for granted. It is foolish to believe in the kind of absolutes that “‘til death do us part” and religious dogma offer.
Another standout, “Tell The Truth,” usurps that truism we all grow up with—that if you tell the truth, everything will be all right. Adults tell children this all the time. We know from experience that this is true. But of course, in today’s post-truth, “alternative facts” media landscape, it should not be taken for granted that truth can trump all. As far as I can tell, it hasn’t.
Produced by Patrick Carney, Youngish American has The Black Keys drummer’s fingerprints all over it: gauzy filters over vocals, watery production effects and bubbly guitars. These are similar to Carney-helmed albums with Tennis, Turbo Fruits and a couple of tracks on Tobias Jesso Jnr’s debut. For the most part it serves Tomson’s low-key vocals well.
However, by time you get to the album’s final track, “Youngish American,” you want to just quit the filters. To hear, with full clarity, the litany of hipster sins they commit. From choosing their dinner party playlist by skipping Outkast “for the hits” again, to having him help out in the kitchen as he should “work on his knife skills anyway.” It eventuates with the plea: “Is there an undertone of arrogance/ To be two youngish Americans?”
I don’t know. You tell me.