Palm Desert, CA’s Haidan Hammond, known pseudonymously as Dandy, is the kind of discovery you’re hoping for when you hang out online long past your bedtime, half-inebriated and eating noodles, maybe wearing the one shoe you couldn’t muster the effort to remove. Put another way, this is music for engaging in solitary after-midnight rumination.
So it was for me. When I stumbled on Dandy, I was not new to Bandcamp but hadn’t done much exploring on the platform. Having been a Hot 100 apologist for years, I’d been feeling a burgeoning impatience with the samey-same and a thirst for novelty, even if unpolished. Out of curiosity, I clicked one of the tags I’d assigned to my own music – we’ll say it was “loner” – to see who shared it. One of the results was Dandy.
I’m not sure what I expected after seeing his DIY graphic design, simplistic yet oddly intentional and assured, or his story: he hadn’t been doing this more than a few months, spurred by quarantine, and he was working furtively out of his room in the family home.
What I got was… instantly arresting. Into my headphones, through a pleasing atmospheric hiss that transported me back to my own formative days of analog overdubbing and sound degradation, spilled withering self-assessments, journal-like in their intimacy but terse and without melodrama. The delivery was not that of a “singer’s singer” but of a nevertheless appealing vocalist whose effacing, underdog tone suited the deceptively nonchalant music. The sentiments were matter-of-fact but quietly devastating. Personal failings and unflattering thoughts were chronicled in a manner both youthful and existential, but affectation-free.
Not only that, but the song craft was solid. Under the lo-fi production and blunt lyrics shimmered an intuitive melodic sensibility, the chord progressions often loungy and surfy but riddled with minor-key pangs… variously reminiscent of Yo La Tengo, Car Seat Headrest, a more downbeat Phoenix, the Strokes (when they were still fresh), and the godparents themselves, the Velvet Underground. Here a lazy retro pop jangle, there the leisurely amble of a vintage supermarket song, but always distant, obscured, glimpses of sun through cracks in a cell. At certain more piano-forward moments, the most fitting comparison is Daniel Johnston – whom I also had just (coincidentally) begun exploring – who served a similarly puzzling blend of primitivism and sophistication.
I was moved to send a message of encouragement to the artist and, later, to make a contribution, which is the reason I’m now in possession of a cassette combining the releases Welcome To The Club, Granillo, and Wish I Could Say (parts 5-7 of what Dandy has amusingly dubbed his “AM Collection”). Upon unboxing, I saw that the artist had hand-decorated a blank white tape with swarming black designs, including symbols of the domestic and quotidian (a lamp, a chair, a door) which are recurring motifs in his idiosyncratic oeuvre – and he had included a handwritten lyrics zine complete with commentary on each song. Seeing it I immediately reflected on the fading art of penpal-ing. I was also carried back to the old thrill of writing illicit notes in class – the soft crush of graphite or satisfying seep of felt tip on loose leaf, the wild innovation of doodles and scribbles, the revelatory outpourings. And, again, I remembered all those early Daniel Johnston tapes circulating out there, each one different from the next.
At this point it appears that, though I sat down to write an album review, I am instead writing a review of Dandy’s body of work and my experience of discovering it. That being the case, I should mention the song in which the artist might be said to have outdone himself (though it does not appear on my cassette, but on the release Ugly People Write Ugly Songs): the narcotic, almost darkwave – yes, darkwave – “Tragic Figures”. A divergence from the other material, this one has Joy Division-meets-The National vibes and somehow looms larger than the rest of the catalog – maybe because it betrays a genre-hopping versatility that could very well be a preview of things to come.
At some point, listening to Dandy, you will ask yourself: Who is this guy, really? Is he playing a character?
Once you get around to hearing the song “What I Feel” – possibly the most Johnston-ian of them all – you’re sure the answer is no. This stuff feels raw in a way that barely ever comes around, and to a degree that the pursuit of capital could never allow. It betrays a yearning for connection, all the while contemplating whether the price is too high. It is far-removed from the world above ground, from any concerns of trendiness. The beachiest song from Ugly is the one about senility and death. This is music for the acutely, cripplingly self-aware… those without any sense of entitlement to others’ attention, who never lament their isolation without looking in the mirror and considering the choices that led to it. It is music for modern-day hermits… and for that…I am glad.