Danielson | Ships (Secretly Canadian)

Changes came quickly after that: various family members moving, getting married, having children. And while they all loved music, it was Smith’s boundless energy and songwriting brilliance that ensured the continuation of the Danielson aesthetic.

 

If the Grammys had a category for “Best Communal Spirit,” Daniel Smith would undoubtedly have to clear space on his mantel. The mastermind of Danielson, otherwise known as The Danielson Famile, has been singing about the need for a communal spirit for years now, establishing his brilliantly original family band with at least a partial goal of promoting inclusiveness and the notion that no single part is bigger than the whole of humanity. Ironic, then, that Smith’s clearly been the visionary of this outfit, guiding it through a confusing transition. The last record labeled “Danielson Famile” was 2001’s deliriously inspired Fetch the Compass Kids.

Changes came quickly after that: various family members moving, getting married, having children. And while they all loved music, it was Smith’s boundless energy and songwriting brilliance that ensured the continuation of the Danielson aesthetic.

2004’s release was credited to “Brother Danielson,” even though all family members were somehow involved. And now comes Ships, a record that includes every member of the extended Danielson clan (including Ma and Pa and possibly some household pets), as well as important friends Smith wanted to work with: Sufjan Stevens, members of Deerhoof and Serena Maneesh, among others. So much material was recorded that some songs only appear on seven-inch limited-edition vinyl records available at the band’s Web site. But the Ships record itself is a grand celebration. Smith and company truly produce some of the most life-affirming aural magic in the pop music universe.

This is musical theater for a global stage, intimate declarations launched into the cosmos, a singular sonic vision being shared with anyone willing to receive and join the brotherhood of man, or Danielson. Songs like “Cast It as the Setting Sail” feature a rich chorus and dense arrangement that manage to remain buoyant and potently effective despite the epic intent. A spirit of everyone being equally engaged in the proceedings pervades. And you gotta love that tasty little clarinet part. Smith’s legendary falsetto, one of the most striking in contemporary music (and the dealbreaker for determinedly unadventurous listeners), is the most integrated it’s ever been, nicely invigorating tunes like “Bloodbook on the Half Shell” (which features finger-snapping, whistling, and a satisfying chord progression), the creatively frenetic “Kids Pushing Kids,” and the utterly mesmerizing “Two Sitting Ducks.” “I can’t stick around/I’m on the move/I have so much to do/So much to prove,” Smith sings in one of the most telling and straightforward lyrical passages, while the female chorus sings “I’m gone, I’m gone” to spine-tingling effect.

“Did I Step On Your Trumpet” is the signature tune, with sisters Megan and Rachel doing that delightful trademark call-and-response thing that Danielson fans cherish. The acoustic guitar strumming is hypnotic; there’s a goodly amount of it here. And for lovers of originality, the mega-quirky “Time That Bald Sexton” will inspire giddy delight. It’s the ship, man. Danielson music occupies a unique end of the popular music spectrum; newcomers hungering for real passion and spazzy but focused brilliance are well advised to set sail with Ships. Come aboard, they’re expecting you…


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