New Jersey’s Daniel Smith rounded up an impressive cast of characters for Ships, his band’s seventh full-length in ten years, including Sufjan Stevens and members of Deerhoof and Serena Maneesh. That there are twenty or so contributors — the list is diverse and composed of well-respected independent artists — may be a vain attempt to get people chatting about Danielson (formerly Danielson Famile). If that sounds like a slight, it’s not: Some street cred here and there would do the decidedly religious band some good. And although these are big names in their respective indie worlds, nothing that the aforementioned contributors are known for ever materializes. Stevens doesn’t help write the lyrics; the members of Deerhoof don’t try to scare you with their curious brand of electronica; there’s no distortion from the distortionites Maneesh.
If you know you’re going into a Danielson record, you should be ready for some quirky pop, and Ships delivers. A lot of songs have a very ’70s Bowie feel to them — they sound like the grand, complicated narratives that the Starman excelled at. At others times, when Smith gets his crew to sing in unison — a Danielson trademark — they invoke a happy-go-lucky feel. Only this time around they sound more grown up. Earlier efforts may suffer from a bit of kindergarten syndrome, in both the styles of singing and instrumentation, but Ships seems to see Danielson maturing at a faster rate. Clearly, they’ve hit puberty.
Ships retains my attention throughout, which, honestly, is a rare feat these days. Each song’s sound changes just enough to avoid a redundancy that a lot of today’s music suffers from. This is important for Smith. Much like his buddy Sufjan, he’s been labeled a religious dude who has a tendency to preach the gospel, so it will be the development of song writing that will carry his career.
Streaming audio: http://www.myspace.com/danielson