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courtesy of the artist
David Karsten Daniels. courtesy of the artist
Here's how the Internet made an exuberant, messy and glorious new album possible.
David Karsten Daniels is a folky singer-songwriter based in San Francisco. Fight the Big Bull is a nine-piece post-jazz band out of Richmond, Va. When Daniels started writing songs for a new album — songs based on settings of Henry David Thoreau poems — he contacted composer Matthew White, ringleader of the Big Bull.
Online, they spent months trading sketches of arrangements — Daniels imagining country songs, hymns and so on, and White sculpting them for clarinet, saxophones, trumpet, trombones, bass and a cluster of percussion. The man and the band finally met in January for more than a week of rehearsal and recording in Richmond. And then Daniels took the tapes home to mix and master them himself, exchanging notes with White all the way.
The result is I Mean to Live Here Still, a record not quite like anything these artists have devised to date. (You'd be well advised to seek out Fight the Big Bull's All Is Gladness in the Kingdom, released in May, for perspective.) You could approximate it as lush orchestral pop in the tradition of Van Dyke Parks or Randy Newman — if those folks had a house horn section with which to indulge their weirdest weirdnesses.
Across a continent, Daniels, White and the band mixed and matched sounds to the point where genre became irrelevant. Their twangy ballads segue to polyphonic New Orleans jazz ("Though All the Fates"), songs that build from a beautiful chorale to roots-rock and then an improv jam filled with woody percussion ("October Airs" and "On Fields"), slow burns where a single mantra builds, achingly, over the course of eight minutes ("Each Summer Sound"). There are rock beats, swirling flute, "Penny Lane" trumpet, atonal free-jazz solos, jump cuts which explode into colors — all of which serve well-constructed pop songs ("The Funeral Bell," "Die and Be Buried" and so on).
The whole thing buzzes with big ideas — these are Thoreau poems sung over a big band, after all — but they don't feel pretentious. The artistry is too high, and the grooves too interesting. I Mean to Live Here Still will stream here in its entirety until its release on June 22; please leave your thoughts on the album in the comments section below.