The New Jersey writer/musician Dw. Dunphy and I have known each other now for some 25 years; I have stood alongside him as a friend, a producer of and conduit for his work, a collaborator and, more commonly in recent years, as a bystander cribbing notes. And I haven’t been this excited by one of his between-LP affairs in a while.
Charm Offensive, a three-song sampler self-released last week on Bandcamp, is Dunphy’s first collection of largely acoustic material since, quite possibly, 2003’s The Look and Social Discomfort – which, in my opinion, remains his magnum opus. It’s not that Dunphy has eschewed acoustics since then – some of his finer moments remain driven by six strings. But, around 2005, Gibberish signaled a change in direction. Since that turning point, most of Dunphy’s work has been more synthetic and constructed, leaning on synth washes and hyper-tonal production instead of the more organic chemistry of gems like “Cannot Hear You” or “Crawling Toward Jerusalem.” (If you haven’t heard either of those songs, you owe it to yourself to track them down.)
Well, until now, that is. On the new EP, Dunphy unfurls just three short songs, the first a chorale piece of introductions, the next two tracks a pair of gently adorned acoustic numbers. And how are those acoustic numbers?
After the ethereal and “9703”-ish “The False Clairvoyant,” “Limo In A Lake” sort of lumbers to center stage with a quick hit of aggressively strummed guitar and vocals that seem more spit out than sung. But Dunphy then clicks into a locked groove on a particular bridge – complete with more carefully plucked notes and a chorus of vocals backing a somber refrain of “What good/ What good/ What good/ do you do?” – and the whole song starts to melt your goddamned heart. He closes with the same bridge, ensuring proof of its resonance.
The closing track, “Crime Scene Reporter,” is a kind of acoustic successor to Primus’ “The Pressman.” While Claypool and company, over their usual rubbery delivery, played up the lesser details of journalistic pursuits – the taste of menthol cigarettes, the clicking of computer keys – Dunphy’s messages are writ larger, talking of crime as the works of man, and the problem with taking your job home with you. It is, in part, a defense and an assumed inquisition of the necessity of municipal-level newspapering, and, when he fleshes out the details with cooed vocals and finger-picked acoustics, it’s also quite a sight to behold.
The EP might be written off as slight – at $3, it is bite-sized – but it’s a concise and convincing argument that Dunphy should return to the might of his guitar. On Charm Offensive, he reminds longtime listeners where the heart of his music resides. Let this be the first new reminder of many. – Justin Vellucci, Swordfish, June 4, 2019