Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
There must be a reason that the first words that come to mind when I hear Daniel Knox's music are "sly" and "devil." I think the words "foxy" and "deranged," as in, "This deranged fox is a sly devil with some buttery fingers and a throat covered in the melted output of a fondue fountain." The Chicago songwriter seems to always be on dramatic display, but even with all of the classical over and undertones gliding toward us with his hanging lilt, there are all kinds of aspects to his music that are off. They don't fit into any sort of classical interpretation. Instead, they are like the Evelyn Waugh and Charlie Chaplin versions of Antony and the Johnsons or Leonard Cohen. It's not slapstick-y or goofy, but his lyrics are like counterculture versions of proper sadness. They are alternatives to happiness and fear, sent up with the cascading, but delicate and punchy piano bangings that come from the hands of the distraught, those overly so, those who sound bourgeois, of refined tastes and starched clothing, those who - when they find themselves having feeling outside of themselves - they feel trapped with them, unsure of what's supposed to happen next.
Knox offers a wonderful, almost absurd grandiosity to feelings of utter despair and dread, or of the necessary wants and needs that come with just getting up in the morning and trying not to fuck up too much, while still getting a couple decent meals and conversations in. His songs are consumed by the embodiment of what it means to be overcome with sensations that have no cures and, really, have very few known ways to curb them all that much. He sings, "Troubles continue until somebody kills them," and that seems to be a mantra for all those whomevers that he's singing on behalf of. He allows his full-bloodied voice to soar monumentally over the ground, like a hot air balloon lofted above the trees on a perfect day that won't be so perfect when those words, that man and his balloon deflate and slink back down to the surface, dejected that there had to be a return at all.
It's as if, up in the air, in the pseudo ether, there can be a suspension of reality, as if everything can blend into everything and there are no conventions. His songs are racked with oddities, with three-legged dogs, with operatic moments that feature boundless grifters and old men in sad states, liaisons for the past promise of better times. Knox writes good, solid paranoid characters who seem to actually like the perpetual pressure of anxieties that don't ever seem to diminish any. "Be Afraid" is a theme song for all of those who have plenty on their minds. He sings, "Be afraid of the mail when it arrives/Or the victim who survives/Be afraid when you don't know what to do/Be afraid because I'm afraid of you." It goes on and on, those worries and those doubts, all under a golden sun that makes them all feel rational, like things that we're supposed to be experiencing.