After first appearing in front of a hardcore band about a decade ago, Daniel Romano has taken personal delight in jumping from music genre to music genre with an impunity, which proved to be incredibly infectious. From hardcore to folk to country to rock and innumerable hybrids of all those sounds, Romano has proven to have a golden touch almost as pure as David Bowie’s for creating believable sonic personas, and re-creating himself to fit them over the duration of his career – but as Finally Free illustrates, the singer is also capable of shucking all the artifice and still writing great songs which don’t feature a particular angle toward which they play.
Listeners will be able to note the change in Daniel Romano’s disposition as soon as a stylus sinks into the A-side of Finally Free, and “Empty Husk” (fittingly) begins the running. There, as the acoustic which dominates the song begins to strum and Romano’s tenor manifests meekly with the words “So the mirror poets lap/ From the serpent’s ruptured wrath/ They finger at the monarch/ With the reproduction blush,” there’s no question that what the singer is playing to here is no character, he’s just being himself; he hesitates and mumbles a bit and never pushes hard (the strings which eventually filter in provide the song’s drive), and that lack of desire to ambitiously well the presentation can easily inspire one to want to run toward it. In the case of “Empty Husk,” the hook and sale is in its candor.
After they’ve rushed in to grasp “Empty Husk,” listeners will find a deeper heart and poetic warmth as Finally Free‘s A-side progresses. “All The Reaching Trim” effortlessly embodies the folkish angles that Simon and Garfunkel created in the Sixties and perfected in the Seventies before “The Long Mirror” pushes the poetry in a more ‘vintage soul’ direction before a really garish, hippie vibe pushes “Celestial Manis” off the rails and “Between the Blades of Grass” closes the side on a hippie-dippie Beatles tip (think where George Harrison was during the making of Sgt. Pepper, and you’re on the right track). Now, under normal circumstances, there’s no arguing that “Blades of Grass” would not normally be the best or most opportune place to remind listeners that there is “more to come” on the album’s flipside – it’s just too ooey-gooey drippy – but it doesn’t tank the momentum of Finally Free has built because no one listening can deny that the joy in the singer’s voice is intoxicating; it’s fun and dumb and, happily, “Rhythmic Blood” opens the B-side on a completely different tack. There, Romano keeps the poetic soul of the album’s A-side but transposes it on top of a more acid-touched folk angle which is perfectly vibrant and hypnotic, and that is what both carries over into “Have You Arrival” (which sounds more than a little like The Beatles’ “Blackbird”) and sustains this spirit. Instantly more consistent of sound and tone than its counterpart was, the B-side – and particularly cuts like “Have You Arrival” and “There is Beauty in the Vibrant Form” make the most of their bookish inspirations and sell them with Romano’s catbird-perfect sound and styling. Simply said, Romano never ventures too far from an established centre point and that helps listeners stay with it; it’s a little warm and a little static, but also easy to appreciate, as one chooses.
It is for all of the reasons outlined above that some listeners will adore Finally Free, while others will question what Daniel Romano could possibly have been thinking when he constructed this release. Some will revere the fact that the singer doesn’t take a particular angle or form unique from the rest of his catalogue – he’s not trying to sell or prove anything here, nor is he attempting to be overly earnest – and others will ask why he broke form in frustration. Whichever group you fall into all depends on you, reader – this album is bold because it doesn’t take any hard stance or posture. Best of luck in your appreciation or revulsion of it.
(New West Records)