Things really started to congeal for Danielson on their last proper album, 2006’s Ships. After more than a decade of turning out consistently interesting, if somewhat uneven records, Daniel Smith took all of his artistic strengths, his sturdiest set of songs to date and nearly every musician that had been associated with Danielson up to that point and remarkably created the group’s most cohesive, satisfying album to date. It was the perfect summation of why the band had accumulated such a dedicated following. That being said, the Danielson Famile was splintering, with several members taking time away from the band for their families, careers, etc. It seemed like there wasn’t necessarily a logical next step for Smith, who carried the majority of the weight of Danielson’s existence. So it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that it took five years for Ships‘ follow-up, The Best of Gloucester County, to surface. What may come as a bit of a surprise is the album itself, which may just be the most traditional sounding record of Danielson’s career.
Although no less than four Danielson mainstays have left the band, the addition of several other local musicians helped insure that The Best of Gloucester County would retain as robust of a sound as that of its predecessor. Smith has clearly worked hard coming up with a band as durable as any he’s worked with to date, allowing the players to stretch out creating rather accomplished and tasteful arrangements. From the gorgeous horn sections- on full display on “Complimentary Dismemberment Insurance”- to the glockenspiel and piano on “Grow Up,” clearly the five years used to make this record were put to good use. Some songs go off into unexpected, but rewarding, territory seemingly on the spot. “Olympic Portions” moves from a quiet drone to jubilation and back down again to mesmerizing coda.
Smith really seems to embraces some of the more psychedelic aspects of his music. With the help of a full-time electric guitarist, there are multiple spots on the album – especially in TBOGC‘s second half – that veer off into the ether. Album highlights like “You Sleep Good Now” and “But I Don’t Want to Sing About Guitars” are stunning voyages into the cosmos. By the time we reach the two final tracks, the band has lulled the listener into a hushed, dreamlike state. Danielson’s approach to creating these ambient textures is a bit more studied than in the past, clearly offering a more carefully considered approach. What’s lost in spontaneity is made up for in precision, and each part fits together perfectly. All told, there is really only one weak link on the album, “People’s Partay.” The song is easily the record’s most playful track which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but in the context of TBOGC, it just doesn’t sit as easily. Danielson can usually pull off this kind of bounciness off with a little more ingenuity.
Although Danielson touchstones are all over TBOGC– Famile harmonies are right on display on “This Day is a Loaf,” the elation you’ve come to expect shows up on multiple occasions — it plays much more like a “rock” record. It may come at the dismay of certain longtime fans that some of Smith’s idiosyncrasies have been sanded down a little, but it was almost inevitable that age, new players and a larger profile would bring about these kinds of changes. What’s rather astonishing is how satisfying the record is given its more traditional sound. It has really given Smith a chance to once again show off his songwriting prowess.
Pixies – Bossanova
Plants and Animals – Parc Avenue
Tame Impala – Innerspeaker
Video: Danielson – “Grow Up”