Thursday 19 December 2013

Review: Danielson Famile / Danielson

Danielson Famile – A Prayer For Every Hour
Danielson Famile – Fetch the Compass Kids
Danielson – Ships
(Fire Records)

Danielson (the group) were formed around frontman Daniel Smith Danielson, and adopt the appendix ‘Famile’ when joined by members of his family. They’re from New Jersey and have been an underground staple for two decades. Here Fire Records presents reissues of three albums that span the years 1994 to 2006.

Danielson (the man) possesses an oblique falsetto vocal styling, at times comparable to Zappa’s Jimmy Carl Black or Perry Farrell of Jane’s Addiction, full of shrill twists and turns, which grabs the listener’s attention and doesn’t let go.

“A Prayer For Every Hour” (1994) is their debut album and is a wonkily presented musing on God, religion and worship. It’s a lo-fi affair with a post-Pixies bent (“Naive Child” could even be them), which encounters many a slack tuned guitar, the occasional pan pipe, and Daniel’s fore mentioned vocal is not so much a falsetto as a squeak. 

Through the subject matter, dirges and mantric ramblings, they move freely into the realms of outsider music (they cite Daniel Johnston as an influence) and create the persona of some bizarre Christian band, to which “1000 Push Ups” (for God) attests.

Interlaced with personal tape recorded snippets and disregard for recording clarity aligns them with the anti-folk and free-folk output of the noughties, but predates them by a decade.

The mighty “Like A Vacuum” and the sedative of “Pepcid 20mg” especially worked for me.

“Fetch the Compass Kids” (2001) is more experimental and folk leaning, and the conceptual key word is “Kids”. Recorded by Steve Albini, it’s tighter musically and can be strict like a marching band or teetering on traditional forms, as on the awkward tango of “Let Us A.B.C.“

Nostalgic of childhood and alluring, like the guilty pleasures of a good Sesame Street tune.

For 2006’s “Ships” Daniel was joined by twenty musicians from Deerhoof, Sufjan Stevens, Why?, Serena Maneesh and Half-Handed Cloud. It’s an excellent offering which converges Pete Townshend and Frank Zappa influences through traditional and film music references, lofty highs and lazy lows, and the result is a Folk-Rock-Opera with Daniel taking a cracked lead role.

Acoustic guitars and rowdy drum bombast set the “Ship The Majestic Suffix” asail before touching gentler seas of flute. “Bloodbook On The Halfshell” recalls early Animal Collective, “Did I Step On Your Trumpet” mixes strange political appeals and abstract allusions to love and is set to a rhythm that recalls The Wickerman’s glorious “Maypole Song”. The airier “My Lion Sleeps Tonight” brittles with childlike chorals and xylophone, whilst “Kids Pushing Kids” motors through.

This band improves with age, quite bonkers and damn fine.

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