Review: Dw. Dunphy (as No-Fi Dead Horse) – “Limb From Limb”

There always was a kind of glowing charm to Dw. Dunphy’s lo-fi days.

Take “Jupiter In Retrograde,” originally released, without much fanfare, back in 1997, practically another lifetime ago.

The song is driven by a fairly innocuous, canned electronic backbeat, but Dunphy fleshes it out, gives a real sense of sweat and toil and heartbeat, with wonderfully palm-muted guitar figures. In the ensuing crescendo, explosive guitars and passionately wailed vocals cut to the fore. It’s evocative, enthralling music, a true, indisputable bridge between 80s pop and 90s indie-rock. We never really hear what Dunphy screams – it is, after all, buried under two or three generations of cassette-tape fuzz and cut pretty low in the mix, to boot – but we always heard what he was saying.

“Jupiter In Retrograde,” along with 21 more early Dunphy gems, thankfully thankfully thankfully got the re-release treatment last week, as Dunphy’s Introverse issued Limb From Limb, a free (!) Bandcamp-only release that it christened as author an amalgamation of Dunphy’s early pen-names: No-Fi Dead Horse. It’s all here: his classic, pitch-perfect take on “Dreamin’” (here with appropriate, album-closing fade-out), incredibly engaging demo-outtakes from the song-cycle Idiopera, cleaned-up folk-pop acoustic ruminations (“Gone, That’s All,” the tragic “Mary Ellen’s Theme,” the plaintive cover of “Tired of Waiting For You”), and three – count ‘em, three – takes on one of his finest early cuts, the gem “Everything Was Good Once.” If you ever flew in Dunphy’s orbit, and a growing arsenal of us Buzheads have, you must – MUST! – download this record. If you haven’t, then consider this an invitation, tailored right to you, dear reader, to enter the fray.

Part of the reason I’ve always championed Dunphy’s work is that so much of his best stuff unfolds organically, sometimes even in real recorded time. Not every musician can capture that magic, and “independent” or home-recording artists are sometimes the worst editors when it comes to their pratfalls. Not Dunphy. This is a man who knows where he shines, who knows just where to push his voice. To that end, you don’t need to look much further on the new release than “Proxy Part One,” originally released in 1996-ish on the Idiopera cassette. The song is classically incidental, like an off-hand remark in a scripted dialogue between lovers, but Dunphy imbues it with a kind of looming tragedy, his carefully plucked acoustic guitar giving way to words that seem almost improvised. (“I’m not home/ Leave a message at the tone/ This isn’t even a voice on the phone”) Like one of his greatest, most memorable songs (“Crawling Toward Jerusalem,” off 2002’s Buckaroo LP) the thing is grounded in the arbitrariness of a real life lived – in this case, an answering machine. In Dunphy’s universe, it speaks volumes. Same goes for “Dependent’s Day,” a wonderful acoustic song where Dunphy’s wails (“When are you/ when are you/ Coming back/ Coming back home?”) tether the line between clearly composed and so passionate that they must be pouring out of him by accident, as if the demons can’t be contained any longer.

And then there’s “Everything Was A Good Once.”  The first sketch/offering is straight-forward, and though the vocals are somewhere between half-formed and fully performed, the nostalgic lament, the tone of rose-colored glasses filtered through with intense sadness, nay a longing for sadness, is already present. The too-short second demo, slightly detuned, is just a primer, a bridge, for the final offering. “There were trees and apartments/ where the office building now stands,” Dunphy sings in that familiar melancholic whisper on the third demo, before the rain comes tumbling down. “It was good once, everything was good once/ It as good once, everything was good once.”

Dunphy, even from the first steps out of the gate, mastered the grandiose themes of suburban American living – in the case of “Everything Was Good Once,” the loaded complexities of New Jersey sprawl. He saw the world around him, imperfect but itching for a symphony, and simply made it his own. Limb From Limb, more than anything he’s released in recent years, illustrates Dunphy’s genius in terms that are eminently digestible. It’s simply indispensable – and you owe it to yourself to track it down. – Justin Vellucci, Swordfish, Sept. 5, 2019


About the author

Justin Vellucci is a staff writer for PopMatters, Spectrum Culture, and MusicTAP, a contributor to Pittsburgh Current, and a former staffer for Popdose, Punk Planet and Delusions of Adequacy. His music writing has appeared in national magazines such as American Songwriter, alt-pubs like The Brooklyn Rail, Pittsburgh CityPaper and San Diego CityBeat, blogs Swordfish, Punksburgh and Linoleum, and the Gannett magazine Jetty. He lives in Pittsburgh.

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