Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
It's not certain which direction Daniel Smith would steer you, if you were on the fence about organized religion, but the trip there would be a colorful one. You would overcome your fear of heights as well as the issue you have with only being able to speak the words Lord and amen awkwardly, with flushed cheeks and you'd find that you are starting to feel something and maybe it is the power of something. More than anything, it is probably just this ability that Smith and Danielson have of making you cock your head and your ears differently. They remind us that there was something like the Arcade Fire's "Funeral" before that band ever started making music together and there are songs and albums - people like Smith - that find their way to the pulpit to light things up. These are blurry, blurry lines that are created between the heavenly and the hellish, but more even between those believers and those who are just keen on the argument, those who waffle daily. They are the people who some days look at a flower or a child and just see a flower or a child, then other days, it's as if they're smacked, knocked cold into believing that some form of divine intervention didn't come before that seed and dirt and those two people who got naked and together. Who doesn't think there's some kind of miracle going on when a guy can convince any intelligent girl that they should sleep together and possibly make another living creature, but we all know what's being discussed here - that slightly wild idea that a baby is something else altogether and much of that creation is still beyond comprehension, no matter how bright any of us become. Danielson songs come from the hearts of folks - less family members now than when Smith started the group in New Jersey, way back in 1994 - who seem like they want to shorten the distance between the openings of their mouths and the top of the sky, whatever winds up being up there. They are loud and they rejoice in ways that they're comfortable with. Sometimes it comes out polished and gilded and others more cacophonic, but no less sparkly, impressive or joyful. The songs are filled with hearty souls and people threadbare, but stubbornly optimistic that all of this shit is for a reason, that theirs is going to be a pretty memorable flight at the end of the line. When Smith sings, "Make me that liar," it's as if he's taking it on himself to gladly carry the load of being wrong or being right about the man behind the curtain and it's nothing to him to have to do so. In some way, he was going to be doing the very same thing whether anyone was listening at all. He was going to be in the backyard, standing on the faded wooden picnic table, with his acoustic guitar, maybe in a doctor's uniform, or just in his britches and a sweater, singing in that falsetto of his to the deer, the groundhogs and the bunnies. We hear it. We feel it. It's a spirit and it's whatever kind of spirit that we want it to be. It might get us to heaven or it might just get us a quiet bed. Either way, it's best to open up loud and strong and get it all out while we've got the time and the audience.