Album Review: Eamon Ra – Dunce Witch Snowman

When we last checked in on the music of Eamon Ra, it was to review his 2020 album Meat Bones Chemicals Electricity. Even though the album title makes me think of the notorious results of a certain evil figure’s mental acuity test of that same year (“Person. Woman. Man. Camera. TV.”), it’s a fine record, one that – as I observed then – is in whatever esteemed category you’d place Martin Newell, Wreckless Eric and Robyn Hitchcock.

Here we are in 2024, and Ra has returned with Dunce Witch Snowman. A tidy collection that clocks in at just over one half hour, it’s filled with the bouncy, intelligent and idiosyncratic pop that he does so well. With a voice that sometimes recalls mid- to late-’60s Ray Davies at his most winsome, Ra crafts impossibly catchy tunes, adorns them with delightful, inventive and economical arrangements, and decorates them with lyrics that – while often inscrutable – are a delight.

Ra’s sonic palette is broad; he’s equally at home with the delicate, classical instrumentation that characterizes the instrumental “Happiest Day Gone Astray” (folding in some backwards guitar) as he is with the stomping rock of the title track. The thunderous and muscular bass on “Dunce Witch Snowman” may make you think of The Move, with some doomy Mellotron to boot. “On the Periphery” feels like some weird melange of Martin Denny and early T. Rex, with more ‘Tron.

Sometimes – and surely by design – the songs tumble into one another, employing the same key and instrumentation. The net effect is to make Dunce Witch Snowman play programmatically like a concept album (though I don’t think it is). That said, especially thanks to its brief runtime, the album is best experienced start-to-finish, with a quick break to flip over the vinyl LP.

“Have You Seen Emma?” would have fit nicely on The Pretty Things’ underrated Parachute LP; that’s some of the highest praise I can give a tune. Completely free of gimmickry, Ra’s latest album manages to have it both ways: he unashamedly makes full use of late ‘60s musical values and tropes, but the end result still somehow feels here-and-now. The snaky leads of “Shelter Skelter” and the Kinks-y “On Holiday” coexist seamlessly with the Donovan-esque “Butterflies and Bees.” And the whole affair wraps up with the irresistible “See You Later,” a farewell that will have to do until Ra’s next release. I for one await it with great anticipation. Dunce Witch Snowman is simply superb.