Review: Ken Stringfellow – Danzig in the Moonlight
Published on August 29th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
One half of the enduring songwriting duo behind The Posies he may be, but Ken Stringfellow is forging quite the solo career away from Jon Auer and his various other projects (a little R.E.M. here, a bit of Big Star there, you know): Danzig in the Moonlight, his fourth lone effort, is utterly, utterly stupendous, and the second Album of 2012 contender to emerge from Andrew Campbell’s Lojinx label after Pugwash’s The Olympus Sound.
Danzig in the Moonlight really is sufficiently brilliant to have caught Rocksucker quite off guard. Take opener “Jesus Was an Only Child”, which begins as a serene, Wilco-esque lullaballad (it’s a word now) with luxurious Lambchop ivories tinkling away overhead. “Jesus was an only child like me / And he saw things that no-one else could see” sing-whispers Stringfellow, so versatile of voice, and we are about to find out that he is correct in his assertion that “There is something strange about this world”.
Suddenly, abruptly yet somehow seamlessly, “Jesus Was an Only Child” makes a beeline for the kind of deliriously sinister boogie that Gaz Coombes nailed both with Supergrass and on his solo LP of earlier this year. Stringfellow blurts out barmy, super-infectious slogans such as “I’ll be your numbers man” and “I got the taste of religion and the power of sex” until a big synth comes wading in for the last minute or so, bringing a cartoon UFO with it. “Oh Christ, let me write some numbers for you” – do whatever you want man, you’ve just made an absolutely stunning opening track.
The ensuing “110 Or 220 V” is a gently downtrodden yet optimistic and beautifully measured little country number that speaks of “Reality subject to cancelations” and how “Everybody thinks they are a lover and a fighter / A kind of spaceship hero” (at least we think that’s what he’s saying), kind of reminding Rocksucker of Gomez circa How We Operate and Mark Gardener‘s These Beautiful Ghosts album with Goldrush.
That Danzig in the Moonlight brings to mind so many other artists serves perversely to underline the singularity of its approach: that is, an un-self-conscious disregard for genre containment aligned with the confidence and ability to pull it off every time, a virtue all too unheralded in these times where stylistic inconsistency is treated with great suspicion. In fact, the album meets the musical conservatives halfway by never once sounding in danger of being disjointed, principally because Stringfellow’s songwriting remains heartfelt and deceptively sophisticated throughout.
“Superwise” starts out sounding like Bravecaptain and then proceeds to throw addictive, instantly winning refrains at you, one after the other, unrelenting awesomeness. We could attempt to describe each distinct section/movement in turn but it’d take up a lot less of all our time if we just urge you to check out this ridiculously good example of tangential yet instinctive, highly evolved and highly addictive pop music. Heck, it even goes on to momentarily channel Animal Collective amongst its well-stocked supply of distinctly different yet equally mesmerising hooks. And all within four minutes. Just wow.
“Shittalkers” gets underway like Mew in ‘dramatic windswept pop’ mode before managing, somehow without missing a beat, to transform itself into impassioned classic soul of the very highest order, Stringfellow’s striking vocal performance delighting variously for its call to “All you shittalkers, unlicensed dog-walkers”, the fact that it sounds a bit like he’s singing “shit tacos”, and a remarkably Michael Jackson-esque delivery of the word “obsolete”.
“History Buffs” is simply a marvellous piece of richly soulful balladeering, again with fleeting moments of divinely windswept pop and the ever-present lyrical ingenuity (“Clinging like monkeys to our rock of Gibraltar / Waiting for evolution to make us appealing / We could be anybody from our future“), while
“You’re the Gold” is pristine, bitter-sweet pop so rich and heartfelt in essence, hardly a candidate for standout status but only making its environment richer for its presence.
“Drop Your Pride” continues Stringfellow’s resoundingly successful explorations into unmined progressions that sound instantly so right, not just despite but also because of how wrong they are, while its ominously sleazy/sleazily ominous brass swing could almost have come straight off The Kinks’ Muswell Hillbillies album. The song’s big dramatic finish is inspired, heralding the strutting arrival of “Pray”‘s laid-back, sassy, sun-kissed soul groove, not to mention the the perfectly executed falsetto croon to match. It’s like a cross between Bill Withers and Super Furry Animals, and it’s bloody brilliant is what it is.
“4am Birds/The End of All Light/The Last Radio” begins like first-album Simian before moving on first to a frankly dazzling infusion of Stevie Wonder into Surf’s Up-era Beach Boys and then what sounds like a bar brawl between freeform jazz and psychedelic pop. If that’s not astonishing enough, “Odorless, Colorless, Tasteless” takes Neil Hannon at his most darkly filmic and introduces him to Martin Carr. In case you’re wondering, it’s an inspired mix.
We then have the folky campfire pulse of “Even the Forgers Were Left Fingering the Fakes”, so magically Beatles-y and equipped with the killer melodic flourish on “As long as they are questioning I’ll keep a straight face on”, before Charity Rose Thielen duet “Doesn’t It Remind You of Something” brings the house down with laid-back country drawls, a series of playfully wry retorts from Stringfellow (eg. “I tried so hard to miss you” – “Keep trying”) and the rather ear-catching line “The way that my face still beats up your dreams”.
All of which leaves “Savior’s Hands” and “You’re a Sign”, two of the album’s shorter numbers, to quietly go about underlining all the great things that have gone before, the latter providing a gentle comedown indeed from all the madness and the beauty with a sighing string section and a deliciously cascading, minor-key, fingerpicked riff.
Chic alors, Ken Stringfellow might just have made his masterpiece. We urge you very strongly to get on this.
Rocksucker says: Four and a Half Quails out of Five!
Ken Stringfellow will play the following live dates in October and November…
12 Oct 2012 – Dynamo, Turku, Finland01 Nov 2012 – Paradiso, Amsterdam, Netherlands02 Nov 2012 – Rotown, Rotterdam, Netherlands03 Nov 2012 – Mezz, Breda, Netherlands04 Nov 2012 – Tivoli Spiegelbar, Utrecht, Netherlands06 Nov 2012 – Botanique, Bruxelles, Belgium07 Nov 2012 – Mod Club, Hasselt, Belgium08 Nov 2012 – Beta, København S, Denmark15 Nov 2012 – The Lexington, London, UK