I'm glad Danielson exists, and I'm glad they're trying to push the limits of quirky underground music. It gives isolated, twenty-something indie fans something to feel smug about ("Who am I listening to on my iPod? Oh, it's a band you wouldn't know.") without forcing them to take on the challenges of truly difficult music like Mahavishnu Orchestra or Captain Beefheart. I only hope that either Daniel C. Smith's (the Daniel behind Danielson) talent catches up with his ambitions, or another group of musicians hears Ships and is inspired to do the same thing. But better. Much, much better.
The music is ambitious. The lyrics are intelligent and clever. The performers are a hipster's who's-who (Sufjan Stevens, members of Ladytron and Deerhoof, Steve Albini, etc). The performances are somewhat energetic. And the songs are boring. They sound as if Smith had a bunch of wacky ideas, but couldn't turn them into cohesive musical creations.
On a Baltimore note, "Bloodbook on the Halfshell" reminds me of how I felt the first time I stepped into the Book Thing. "These lovely bloody books, arms full of lovely books, freely collecting books, we're getting funny looks, while we are stacking organizing filing piling way up high and rising Dewey dusty decimalizing sorting tracking systemizing, can't believe we found this vintage, we now have such great advantage, great they'll look in our library." The song made me smile, but I was smiling because of my own life and my own memories. Without those, this song would have been as empty for me as the rest of the album.
The booklet is aesthetically beautiful. Unfortunately, it's functionally useless. On one side of the insert, the lyrics are printed down the length of the full six pages, which looks neat but is annoying to read. The other side is filled with words that end with "-ship," and is even more annoying to read. Perhaps the worst example of form over function is the album credits: the names of everyone who worked on the album are written in tiny and nearly illegible print along the masts of the sailboat on the cover. Smith obviously loves words, but his booklet doesn't give them the respect they deserve.
Listen if you like: Flaming Lips, Sufjan Stevens, quirky and overhyped underground rock that's big on presentation on short on substance.
If it were food, it'd be: Tomatoes from an urban community garden where flavorless vegetables are grown by hipsters in soil rich with smug self-righteousness.