“And though the sicknesses and death/come closer every breath/I’ve got no last requests/it’s beautiful here” is typical of the sentiments you’ll find on the Minus 5’s 10th album—a tad gloomy, but nonetheless delivered with upbeat good cheer.
The Minus 5 is an indie-pop supergroup of sorts, founded by the Young Fresh Fellows’ (and R.E.M. touring guitarist) Scott McCaughey, with a rotating cast of characters, R.E.M.’s Peter Buck being the most regular contributor. Dungeon Golds has an especially wide range of participants as it’s drawn from the limited edition five-album box set Scott the Hoople in the Dungeon of Horror released for Record Store Day last year. But in typical record-collecting geek fashion, McCaughey found himself wanting to rework the songs he chose for what’s essentially a “best of the box” compilation and called upon the likes of not only Buck, but also Jeff Tweedy (Wilco, Uncle Tupelo), the Small Faces’ Ian McLagan (in one of his last recorded appearances) and Nate Query (The Decemberists), among others, to help add a few embellishments—meaning half the versions on Dungeon Golds are different from those on Dungeon of Horror. And, of course, the true record collector will have to get both.
The sound is very much mid-’60s Beach Boys/Byrds pop stuff: light, breezy vocals and lush instrumental harmonies (what McCaughey calls “guitarmonies”). “In the Ground” has such shimmering guitar work you can readily overlook its somber reflection on mortality (“Whatever I was and whatever I’ll be/the world will get on without me”). Elsewhere, “Remain in Lifeboat” has a tough, strong musical backing with a lineup that features McCaughey, Tweedy, McLagan, and the Baseball Project’s Linda Pitmon, a grouping McCaughey refers to as “the band that might have been.”
There are a few in-jokes. The opening track, “My Generation” isn’t a Who cover; instead, it neatly flips that band’s hope-I-die-before-I-get-old mantra into a plea for more life (“Not ready to die, die, die/Don’t want to fold”) in spite of the perils of old age, set to a beat that whipsaws back and forth like a clock hammering out the final minutes of your life. And it all comes to a close with the country-tinged “The Unforseen,” a plucky little tune about the benefits of choosing to light a single candle instead of cursing the darkness.