Splint Entertainment / 2016
Steve Taylor & the Danielson Foil might have coalesced just last year, but the roots of the project are way back in the 90's. That's when producer Steve Albini (at this point he can probably just change his legal name to Legendary Producer Steve Albini) hit up a young Daniel Smith to make music together, resulting in the Danielson Famile's classic Tell Another Joke at the Ol' Choppin' Block. That's also when Steve Taylor quit his solo career after a poorly-performing record, and took his musical efforts behind-the-scenes - he thankfully reemerged in 2014 with the stellar LP Goliath, flanked by a band called The Perfect Foil (featuring Peter Furler, in self-imposed Newsboys exile, on drums). In addition to releasing the Goliath vinyl on his own label, Sounds Familyre, Smith supported on the record's tour, and Albini's enthusiasm after seeing them play together was the impetus for a one-off recording session at the producer's famous Electrical Audio studio in Chicago.
The six-track EP Wow to the Deadness came together on-the-fly (literally - Smith was still scribbling lyrics on the flight to the studio), but that feeling of immediacy suits its uniquely odd and skuzzy punk sound. Wow to the Deadness doesn't sound quite like anything The Perfect Foil or Danielson have done before, and that's no mistake - Taylor says the only rule was "if it sounds like something we've already done, we throw it out."
Unsurprisingly, a lot of Wow to the Deadness' biggest pleasures end up come from Smith's ear for weirdo-pop applied to such a hard-rocking style of music - the hand-claps and squeaky "We have a winner!" interjections on the excellent, tuba-accented title track are textbook Danielson. That distinctive flavor notwithstanding, songwriting was a true team effort, and with song structures that feint and turn on a dime (often multiple times in the same song), the group manages to pack more musical ideas into this brief EP than many full-lengths have.
Vocally, Smith and Taylor turn out to be an great duo - the former's helium-high yelp is the perfect leaven for the latter's classic punk snear - and their lyrics are loaded with self-deprecating faith and hope. On the closing track, "Drats", Smith is beaten down by shame and repeated failure (I can't trust the word 'free'/The sun coming up is embarrassing me"), but at song's end his head is lifted by the thought of the divine promise: "The earth waits/So expectant/For the kids/To be revealed". One of the only gripes to be had with Wow to the Deadness is that on "Drats" and a couple other tracks, it feels like some details were lost in the recording - for whatever reason, the mix can sound a bit muddy, especially in comparison to the crisp punchiness that defined Goliath.
Taylor goes nuts on the off-road, Stooges-style thrasher "The Dust Patrol", but his finest hour is the egocentric tantrum he throws on "A Muse", wryly playing the frontman from hell who uses and abuses his bandmates with only his own fame in view ("It's my party, you're lucky to be here/You're no Dylan so don't make me laugh"). Thankfully, that sort of conceit was absolutely nowhere to be found in the making of the EP: Wow to the Deadness is collaboration at its purest, with disparate sensibilities and geniuses unselfishly fusing to create something invigoratingly new.