I don’t know about you, but usually whenever I hear there’s a new Danielson album coming out I feel a curious little pang of nervous energy—the kind that you get whenever dealing with the “touched.” It’s like that with Anton Newcombe of Brian Jonestown Massacre, and it’s like that with his spiritual antipodes, Daniel Smith, the Light of the Danielson Famile tree. This time though, after five years of zero new recorded output, it was more just simple curiosity.
Would Brother Danielson still hold as art-pop’s askew? Would he still bring the Spirit kicking and screaming (and finally rejoicing) through the music? Or, heaven forefend, would the pendulum have swung so that the indie-Bible jubilee of the previous seven albums was compelled towards darker forces . . . towards, indeed, the dastardly craw of the Beelzebub? And would it be possible for him to perform this new set of songs dressed as a nine-foot fruit tree with a backing female faction of nurses (like he used to do)?
So many questions.
But it takes one song—the opening track, “Complimentary Dismemberment”—to know Smith is still preaching the glammy oddball gospel. Best of Gloucester County not only retains the Danielson cult of positivity but is in fact better than the cameo-studded last album, Ships (2006). Except for Sufjan Stevens doing spot duty on vocals and quirking things out with the banjo, this one does have plenty of Gloucester County, New Jersey locals playing (Evan Mazunik’s organ contributions are immediately indigenous to the Danielson canon). Some family members are here (sisters Megan and Rachel, and Smith’s wife Elin), and some are gone (brothers David and Andrew, namely). Yet the art-folk moments are vintage, and “The Day of the Loaf” carries the Old Message, which always harkens back, most sincerely, to what I think are 16th century values.
But who’s playing is all secondary—Smith still makes a scientific mess of octaves, particularly on the single “Grow Up.” He has the swervingest falsetto to ever teeter on collapse—to the point it that it becomes more of a truthsetto. Ahem. It’s a voice rightly suited for good religious hysteria, and it’s in that Danielson Way that songs like “Lil Norge,” where he pleads (suggests strongly?) “Can’t we be friends,” become completely idiosyncratic. Ditto the bizarre circus entry, “People’s Partay,” or “Hovering Above That Hill,” which does away so efficiently with the earthly rat race.
There are a limited amount of cassettes available, too, if you are into that kind of thing. Check out www.danielson.info.