This is the second album from the instrumental duo of Ellis Swan and James Schimpl and the first Dead Bandit album to follow Swan's killer 2022 solo album 3am. Happily, Memory Thirteen returns to the hypnagogic "witching hour" vibes of 3am, but it also marks a very compelling creative leap forward into fresh stylistic terrain. To my ears, that blearily dreamlike terrain is best described as "what if Boduf Songs scored a gig as the house band at a strip club in the Donnie Darko universe?" Needless to say, that is a very tricky and hyper-specific niche to fill, yet Dead Bandit consistently find new ways to combine hushed and haunted late-night melancholy with neon-soaked sensuousness, deadpan cool, and dreampop shimmer.
The opening "Two Clocks" introduces most of the elements central to the duo's current vision: understated guitar melodies, well-timed flickers of human warmth, submerged and distressed-sounding textures, and slow-motion, head-nodding beats. It is a fine way to start an album, but it feels more like a setting of the stage than a legitimate album highlight (even if it undergoes a gorgeously dreamlike transformation around the halfway point). The first unambiguous highlight follows soon after, however, as "Blackbird" feels like a window into a narcotic and carnivalesque cabaret of eerie melody, throbbing bass, lysergically smeared textures, and simmering, seething intensity.
Ironically, the following "Circus" feels considerably more like a dirge that lands somewhere between surf-damaged rockabilly twang and a suicide note, but a closer listen reveals a host of subtly psychotropic touches to savor. Those quiet glimpses of sublime beauty are a bit of a recurring theme throughout the album, as even the weaker songs tend to be elevated by at least one unexpected (and oft partially submerged) flash of inspiration. The stronger songs benefit from that tendency as well, as illustrated by the jangling guitar figure that appears around the halfway mark in "Blackbird" or the overlapping arpeggio motif that emerges from the feedback cloud in "Peel Me An Orange."
That said, Swan and Schimpl save their most brilliant work for the album's second half, as the one-two punch of "Somewhere to Wait" and "Revelstroke" is the heart of the album for me. On "Somewhere to Wait," Dead Bandit sound like the best fucking surf band in Twin Peaks, as a shuffling and seductive groove provides the backdrop for a twangy, woozy guitar melody while quivering afterimages linger like a ghostly haze. "Revelstroke," on the other hand, takes a very different path, as a warmly flickering dream-drone haze blossoms into absolute heaven once the acoustic guitars come in. I also love the less substantial album closer "Across the Road," as it is probably the most achingly beautiful two-minute coda of shimmering and smoldering guitar noise that I could possibly hope for.
That said, there is probably a moment lurking within every single one of these pieces that I absolutely love and the difference between a great piece and a very good piece is merely that the great pieces extend that moment for their entire duration. Beyond that, I genuinely cannot praise the duo's execution enough, as Swan and Schimpl seem to have almost supernaturally unerring intuitions for texture, nuance, and mood through Memory Thirteen's entirety and they manage to pull it off without a single wasted note or descent into morose navel-gazing. That said, there is certainly a depressive mood here that may be a bit oppressive for some, but depressive moods are the water that I swim in and Dead Bandit do a hell of a job of balancing those more brooding tendencies with a carnal, flesh-and-blood undercurrent and brief flashes of wounded beauty akin to a spectacular sunset of fiery orange mingled with bruised purple. This is an absolutely perfect late-night album for lovelorn and/or dissolute insomniacs.