Review: Das Damen ‘1986: Keeps Me Wild’

Having become familiar with Black Flag, Husker Dü, Minutemen, Meat Puppets et al, one of the second-tier, lesser-known names on SST who caught my attention was Das Damen. The band, whose name is loose German for The Ladies (well, the exact translation would be Die Damen) were a New York City quartet formed in 1984 comprised of Jim Walters on guitar/vocals, Alex Totino on guitars/vocals, Phill Von Trapp on bass and Lyle Hysen on drums.

Das Damen '1986: Keeps Me Wild' Artwork
Das Damen ‘1986: Keeps Me Wild’ Artwork

This release is a deluxe reissue of their Self-Titled debut EP with numerous bonus tracks. For the purposes of the review, I’ll be focusing mainly on the EP but highlighting extras I deem worthy of your time.

Tsavo is the album’s brief intro featuring backwards sounding guitars and weird noises. There isn’t a lot to say about it other than it sets the tone for the rest of the EP rather well. The first track proper, Trick Question, recalls prime Sonic Youth and unlike contemporaries Dinosaur Jr, who they sometimes drew comparisons to, Das Damen had a keener sense of melody and I defy anyone to not get those choruses stuck in their heads.

The gentler, mellower moments of Slave Bird recall early Flaming Lips, especially tracks such as With You, it also explodes at various moments into chaotic post-hardcore. Interestingly it seems to prelude what the Pixies would do a year or so later in terms of the whole quiet/loud dynamic. One last thing, the title of the album, It Keeps Me Wild, is repeated here, a lot, which may irritate some but not me.

House Of Mirrors recalls latter day Husker Dü with vocals bearing a passing similarity to the late, great Grant Hart when that band were moving away from buzzsaw hardcore punk and into more introspective, melodic territory. A similar evolution seemed to be happening with Das Damen with (if I’m not mistaken) certain members coming from the hardcore scene.

I’m hopeful this will spell the beginning of some much-deserved recognition for this previously overlooked, undervalued outfit…

How Do You Measure is one of the EP’s shorter tracks and certainly one of its punchiest with moments again recalling the power of Husker Dü. There is a haunting, almost spiritual quality, about it that makes it even more enrapturing and appealing. It’s not surprising that Nirvana ended up playing with Das Damen in 1991 as Behind My Eyes testifies to the kind of tortured lyrical and vocal angst and metallic riffing that would become that band’s bread and butter. It’s one of the release’s heaviest tracks and draws the EP to a thumpingly brilliant conclusion.

Of the bonus tracks there are a few guest appearances, guitarist Gary Lee Connor (The Screaming Trees) brings an extra level of ‘60s psych goodness wailing away as he does through a version of Trick Question. Thalia Zadek (Live Skull/Come) brings an extra level of vulnerability and welcome female energy to How Do You Measure, while both John D Robinson (The Fluid) and Dez Cadena (Black Flag/DC3/The Misfits) bring a punkier attitude to Behind My Eyes. I Feel Bad Now is a fun slice of retro Monkees style ‘60s garage-pop and Living Statues is pretty decent Naked Raygun-esque punk rock. A minor criticism would be that the rest of the bonus tracks warrant no more than a cursory listen.

Alan McGee’s recent comments on Slowdive’s resurgence ‘sometimes the good guys win’ certainly applies to Das Damen. With them doing live shows again thirty-two years after their dissolution as well as the reissue of this here EP, I’m hopeful this will spell the beginning of some much-deserved recognition for this previously overlooked, undervalued outfit.

Label: Dromedary Records
Band Links: Facebook | Spotify | Instagram

Scribed by: Reza Mills