by: Brian C. Quon
After meandering aimlessly through the cold corporate water that is modern mainstream music, every independent music fan has shared a similar narrative about how they navigated their ship through the treacherous corporate air-waves and encountered major label pirates concerned primarily with taking their money. And while they were content with drifting amongst these air-waves of (for lack of a more appropriate nautical term) shit, they would be forced off their mainstream course upon a chance encounter with an "Indie" whose sole joy it was to destroy mainstream ships with its mighty, pretentious ego. Confused and condescended, their ship would be chased through the Bering Straight Edge before setting down anchor in the Post-Pacific Ocean, so entranced by this strange new world that they would spend the rest of their days holding an irrational, bitter hatred toward the mainstream world they abandoned - establishing them as an official "Indie."
And this unnecessarily metaphorical story of independi-fication does not end there, as the constellations Deerhoof, Serena Maneesh, Why?, Half-Handed Cloud, and Sufjan Stevens have forced the independent community to point their handy sextants toward the night sky. These constellations that shone brightly in the sky have broken apart, integrating their unique parts into one grandiose constellation called Danielson.
This amazing congregation adorns the cover of the album Ships, the new release by former Danielson Famile/Brothers Danielson/Tri-Danielson lead man Daniel Smith, who has, at least temporarily, adopted the moniker of Danielson. While the new pseudonym of Smith can be described as redundantly unsurprising, the transformation of his music has startled listeners accustomed to his Twee-Folk musical prayers. What had once been the manic-depressive guitar strumming of Smith, a simple snare backbone, what I swore sounded like a toy piano I owned as a four-year old, and Smith's dominantly grating vocals - has become the grandiose layers of melodies and sweeping vocal choruses that comprise Ships.
With the first song of the album, "Ship the Majestic Suffix," we immediately find Smith toying in unfamiliar waters. The album starts with a restrained voice against clean strums of the guitar, before exploding into the complex arrangements that, for the first time in Smith's career, appear to compliment the screeching yelps that used to dominate his music. The song crescendos – or tsunamis, if you will – to heights unknown for a Daniel Smith song, before crashing down under the pressure of its weight.
While the incorporation of these vast changes into his music is easy to talk about, perhaps the reason Danielson may be pushed into the upper-echelon of Indie-rock stardom, was the way he incorporated his incomparable style into grandiose arrangements. "Did I Step on Your Trumpet?" and "Two Sitting Ducks" are undeniably Daniel Smith songs. They have the quirky unpredictability of his earlier works combined with infectiously charming and sing-a-long vocals that have hit creative heights, but are integrated nicely into a matured wall of layered melodies. Or, to explain using that cheesy constellation metaphor again, it's not the integration of new constellations that makes it shine brightly, but rather the remnants of the Danielson Famile shining through them that makes everybody take notice.
If there is one thing that distinguishes Ships from A Prayer for Every Hour or Fetch the Compass Kids, or any of his other work, it's that Daniel Smith's vocals have become more an asset for him than a liability. Previously, the screeching sermons of a seemingly pre-pubescent musician had put down potential listeners, but the maturation of his music has smoothed the rough edges around his vocals, emphasizing the quirky singability of his songs and inviting listeners to give a second spin. While it is still difficult to tell the extent of the current that Ships will cause in independent music, there's a good chance that independent music fans will keep their eyes on the new Danielson constellation, as Daniel Smith's stars have lined up just right.