Following a few projects twisting folk music in a more experimental minimalist/modern classical/noise vein released on his Bu_Hanan label (owned in a collective with David Hart and Alex Lazara) David Karsten Daniels has set his trajectory on a perhaps more accessible course with his debut for Fat Cat, Sharp Teeth. It’s a fascinating record full of ideas and hooks, consistently delivering whilst hitting from different directions as the lo-fi basis of the first track spreads out to traverse a wide American songbook.
Opener “The Dream Before The Ring That Awoke Me” begins with a gloriously casual ad hoc meld of Karsten Daniels’ vocals and guitar with studio conversation and ambient noise, the lead vocal melody and accompaniment soldiering slowly through it though singing “there is a joy that you can’t contain/there is a feeling you just can’t explain” — the joyful exclamation being repeated over and over as the strummings are joined by lightly bouncing bass and reserved percussion which beats out a steadily powerful rhythm and as swooping vocals and sweeping orchestral augmentations take over the backgroud and it all becomes an incredibly anthemic folk song, ensnaring the listener beautifully.
guitar stabs and percussion build up as string-lines swirl around each other until exploding into a masterpiece
The next song “Scripts” is a more stripped-down singer/songwriter ballad with a Southern feel, what could remain a powerful voice and guitar song though is given a soulful edge with a rotary organ spinning away behind it and then two thirds of the way through it’s all change as a dixieland chorus with emotional horns and lazy-beat brushwork bursts in.
Surprising the listener once again “American Pastime” starts straight away with its 70s singer/songwriter-with-band feel — staccato bass, piano and drums all driving along a more emphatic vocal performance. The chorus delivers on the opener’s promise of catchy vocal lines but also offers a hint of struggle behind the uplifting chord prgressions, a feeling brought to the fore in the spiritual investigation in the next trrack “Jesus and The Devil”. Although the song has a hint of playfulness, at its start the music has been stripped away to minimal accompaniment, demanding a listen to the questioning mood of the lyrics. The song pales away into a drone which leads into further contemplative time through the slow piano solo “Sharp Teeth I”, a short track which feels around exploratorily before leading in to the song’s powerful centrepiece, “Minnows”. Soft guitar stabs and percussion build up as string-lines swirl around each other until exploding after two minutes into an epic Neil Young-esque masterpiece. Pre-empted by the return of the high backing vocals as well as the arrival of ligh coutry slides in “Jesus And The Devil”, “Minnows” delivers an emotive full vocal chorus and glorious trebly guitars, developing into an lazy drawl occupying territory not too far from groups like Do Make Say Think or Godspeed.
David Karsten Daniels has traversed a fair amount of American musical ground.
In following track “Universe Of No Parts”, the hint of Will Oldham in the artist’s voice can be felt at its greatest leading the pleasurable downbeat country folk mood, one continued on “Beast”, though even further downtempo and offering more epic development over its lengthier runtime.
After the short explorations of piano and string on “Sharp Teeth II”, which appear decidedly more optimistic than their preceding half’s, the album closes with “We Go Right On”. The last track should be another lesson for the listener to avoid getting too comfortable as the intimate folkiness keeps its rhythm but turns instantly full band and louder half way through, playing the record out with the artist’s noiser side.
In an album where the lyrics debate life and love and a route between darkness and light, David Karsten Daniels has traversed a fair amount of American musical ground but within a stylistic framework which pares down to similar dualisms — quiet/loud, upbeat/downbeat, optimistic/pessimistic. Though its interest does fade somewhat on its latter half, the struggle the music has between these dualisms keeps Sharp Teeth steadily appealing if you mix the tracks up, and anyway the first half is enough on its own to secure a place in your memory and leave you wanting more. Karsten Daniels has made a successful turn towards a careful melodicism and lets hope he continues well from this high bar he’s set to jump forward from.