Thursday, June 04, 2009

Music Library: Dan Crary, Dan Deacon, Dan Penn, Dan Zanes, Danger Doom, Danger Mouse, Daniel, Daniel Johnston, Daniel Lanois, Danielson

Dan Crary - Lady's Fancy. Dan Crary is a bluegrass flatpicker legendary among fans of old-timey music. On the 10 instrumentals that make up Lady's Fancy, he demonstrates his considerable speed and improvisational chops, plus an impressively light touch that belies how very close to impossible what he's doing actually is. Real bluegrass flatpickers are as enamored of technique as the nerdy dragons-n-metal set, but with a feel for tonal interpretations of traditional folk songs that is similar to how soloists in classical music distinguish themselves. Of course, the problem with old-timey bluegrass, as with technical metal, is that it tends to sound the same after awhile. Crary is the real deal, a technical master who plays with feeling, but his songs sometimes linger a bit longer than they should.

Dan Deacon - Spiderman of the Rings. This 2007 electronica album is a mish-mash of geeky dance pleasures (which was an oxymoron when I was a kid). I really should pick up this year's follow-up.

Dan Penn - Do Right Man. Dan Penn wrote or co-wrote a bunch of the classic soul sides from the late 60s, which pretty much earns him a place in heaven even if he and Alex Chilton don't see eye to eye after the whole Box Tops fiasco. Anyway, this 1994 album has Penn singing some of his classic songs with an ace Memphis soul band behind him. And with material like "Dark End of the Street" and "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man," two of my absolute favorite songs, he kills. There's a throwaway on here, too ("Memphis Women and Chicken"), but in such heavy company, who cares?

Dan Zanes & Friends - Family Dance. Dan Zanes used to be the creative force behind the Del Fuegos back in the 80s, but in the 00s, he's become a family man playing songs for kids. I bought this, after hearing a number of other parents testify that as far as children's music goes, Zanes isn't so bad. Which is true, but that doesn't mean that I want it in my rotation. My kids haven't taken a shine to it yet, but I imagine I'll hear plenty of this in the future.

Danger Doom - The Mouse & The Mask. MF Doom and Danger Mouse collaborating on an album dedicated to the 2005 Adult Swim line-up. And it's freakin' awesome, perhaps even more awesome because of how easily it could be so very bad. Doom is, of course, the highest, laziest, and nerdiest of all rappers, Danger Mouse is the DJ with the mostest, and Adult Swim shares their off-kilter, reference-heavy senses of humor. There was an EP collaboration, too, but I never picked it up. Housecleaning point: MF Doom's new album is under the moniker DOOM, which I've filed under MF Doom, so it won't show up in the Ds. I should probably change that, though, since Viktor Vaughn is under the Vs, King Gheedorah is in the Ks, and Madvillain is in the Ms, and those have as much reason to be filed under MF Doom as the new DOOM album.

Danger Mouse - The Grey Album and "Somersault" [with Zero 7]. The former is, naturally, Danger Mouse's famous mashup between Jay-Z's The Black Album and The Beatles' self-titled album that is usually called The White Album. This album has been rightly called one of the best mashups of the genre (is it a genre?). Compared to the others I've heard, it's heads and tails above the competition. The latter track is from some pop conglomerate calling itself Zero 7. I've never heard the original, but this remix features MF Doom rapping and Danger Mouse's typically transcendent glitch-pop.

Daniel - "Death Metal Warmup Exercises." I loved heeeeeeerrrrrrrr. I loved heeeeeeerrrrrrrr. But now she's gooooooooone. Ah, that's a funny couple of seconds there. A capella cookie-monster vocals!

Daniel Johnston - Songs of Pain, Hi How Are You, More Songs of Pain, Yip/Jump Music, Continued Story, and Fun. As The Devil and Daniel Johnston made clear, there are a lot of contradictions about Daniel Johnston. For one, Johnston is a ridiculously talented songwriter, despite how harsh and primitive his songs may sound at first, but his mental illness has always pushed an uneasy line for casual fans. Some people conflate him with Wesley Willis, whose popularity is mostly built around his mental illness. Willis is a sad case, it seems to me, as every mention of him had this ugly "let's gawk at the crazy guy" tone to it. Johnston, though, is a great songwriter despite his illness. For a guy who spent time in the state mental hospital, he's done very well for himself, too. His songs have been covered by too many artists to mention. I think Kathy McCarthy's album Dead Dog's Eyeball is the best, giving his songs the sympathetic accompaniment that they cry out for. But even in Johnston's originals, despite the screechy vocals, the crude chord organs, the low-fi tape-machine vibe, the sophistication is there but buried. Anyway, Johnston is an odd duck for me, too: I love Johnston's music, but prefer the cover versions. A few Johnston originals are fun, but a whole album can be overwhelming, and several in a row, as I listened to in preparation for this post, was far too much at once.

Daniel Lanois - "Jolie Louise." Oh, I really, really, really don't care for this.

Danielson - A Prayer For Every Hour, Tell Another Joke At The Ol' Chopping Block, Tri-Danielson!!! (Alpha), Tri-Danielson!!! (Omega), Fetch The Compass Kids, Brother Is To Son, The Kid EP, Ships, Danielson Alive, and Our Givest (Remix). This is everything Danielson has done. I bought a copy of Ships after reading a rapturous Pitchfork review, but I couldn't really get into it until I saw the documentary about Danielson. But that documentary opened the door for me onto their (his?) music. So here's the deal: Danielson means either The Danielson Famile, under which name the first five albums appeared, or Brother Danielson, which graced the sixth album, or just Danielson, which appeared on Ships, the most recent full-length. These are all helmed by one Daniel Smith, the eldest son of the large brood of an ex-priest and an ex-nun. The Danielson Famile consists of Smith, all of his brothers and sisters, and his art-school buddy Chris, plus various spouses they've gathered throughout the years. The music is off-kilter stuff, influenced by various indie rock demigods like Captain Beefheart, the Minutemen, Beat Happening, the Pixies, and so on. Most of the songs deal with Smith's attempts to negotiate a Christian good life in the very tempting secular world, and there's plenty of questioning and second-guessing along with the happy happy joyful stuff, which is how it reaches a guy like me. Smith's voice is not an easy instrument, as he tends to deliver his lyrics in a testicle-rattling falsetto squeak that takes some getting used to. But he's a talented guy mining a very appealing vein of music, and I appreciate what he does. The best of these is Ships, the first one I started with, but, like I say, it took me a while to appreciate it. I'm more fond of the albums immediately preceding it (Brother Is To Son and Fetch The Compass Kids) than I am of the previous albums, but they all have their pros and cons. Oh, and some hash has been made of how Smith took a young Christian musician from Detroit named Sufjan Stevens under his wing, and suddenly Stevens is popular while Smith remains on the fringes of indie rock. Lemme say that I don't think Stevens stole anything from Smith. I do think Stevens learned something about crafting his vision from Smith, but I think the basic elements come from Stevens himself, and I think that Stevens, with his youth, gentler voice, and radio-friendly music, had opportunities to reach an audience that would never embrace Smith's pricklier music. And I think that Smith himself would agree with me, and those people out there defending his honor on the Internet are not doing either Smith or Stevens a service. That's my mostly uninformed $.02, anyway.


cbean45 2:13 PM, June 06, 2009  

Wesley Willis was an unstoppable as a freight train in both his art and music . He loved what he was doing and most fans felt his joy. He felt he was living his dreams and getting paid. He was happy as a clam.

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