Daniel G. Harmann has been recording, solo or with previous band The Trouble Starts, for the last 15 years. It is not surprising that Slowing Downspends time exploring and investigating the intricacies of the sound he’s created over that time span. His early days as a lushly-orchestrated indie rock songwriter meet his crunchy guitar side and mingle with the sparseness he cultivated all along the way. What results is a thought-provoking album of distinctive indie rock.
Harmann’s most distinctive feature is his voice: he has a sonorous tenor that swoops, swoons, quavers, and warbles elegantly. He is fond of rapid interval leaps and drops in his vocal lines, which gives his melodies an inherently dramatic quality. In his early work (The Books We Read Will Bury Us), the songs were built around these giant moments, but here Harmann integrates his vocal stylings into the arrangements much more. Opener “Carbondale” buries his voice in a shoegaze-like way under a barrage of percussion and synthetic sonic haze, but that’s an extreme case. “Hesitations” is as much about the martial stomp of the drums and synth as it is his voice; the melancholy of “Volition” is powered equally by the guitar performance and his pipes.
That trio of tunes holds down the rock end of the spectrum here; on the other end lie delicate tunes “Dues,” “Zocalo” and “Tectonic.” Harmann has always shown an affinity for the acoustic guitar and has often released guitar and voice songs (Westroy Sessions); here he’s polished those skills to a shine. But Harmann’s acoustic songs are not standard singer/songwriter fare. The unique vocal melodies he is fond of give the work surprising twists and turns. “Dues” is as pretty a song as Harmann has penned in his long career, challenging my personal favorite “Last Swim of the Year” for the crown.
The central piece of the album is “Endless,” which brings together his rock interests and his beauty-minded writing in one package. It starts off with a brittle, distorted slice of guitar work before dropping into mid-tempo minor-key rock. His voice soars over the guitar twice: once as lead, once as ethereal backup. The ghostly vocals usher the transition from the minor-key verses to the major-key “chorus,” where the gritty guitar returns with a bright, muscly, uplifting vibe. It strongly echoes early ’00s Deep Elm Records work, like the White Octave, Appleseed Cast, and the like. After the chorus, the guitar fluctuates again, sending the song out on a chunky, powerful riff and repeating square synth. It’s breathtaking, showcasing the nuance and thoughtfulness that can come from 15+ years in the game. It’s a bit noisier than his early work, but there’s a direct line between then and now in this tune.
If you’re into serious indie-rock, Slowing Down should be on your to-hear list. Harmann has spent years tweaking and refining his sound, creating a distinct sonic space for himself. Those interested in clear, strong songwriting voices will have much to celebrate in Slowing Down.
Daniel G. Harmann has been firmly on my radar since 2007, when The Books We Read Will Bury Us made its way into my life. His lush, romantic, slow-moving work helped me first write the phrase “Rainy Day Makeout Music.” Since then he’s gone in all sorts of directions: he’s picked up a noisy rock band (The Trouble Starts) and gone voice-and-acoustic-guitar solo on different projects. The excellent White Mountains benefits from all his various configurations: the whip-smart indie-rock writing incorporates both fury and romance.
You need look no farther than tracks two and three to see how this juxtaposition works out. “Pistols at Dawn” starts out with stark pseudo-grunge clean guitar tone before introducing organ and tempo-pushing drums. The track unfolds as a churning-yet-wiry track, a simmering heat that never boils over but threatens to at all times. Harmann balances the muscle and the melody with his dramatic vocal performance, walking the line between aggressive rock howls and aggrieved indie-pop vocal theatrics. It ends in a drum solo, because why not? It rocks. It’s like Silversun Pickups, but with a window that lets some light in.
“Anna” follows “Pistols,” and it couldn’t be more different. Composed of the same general elements (organ, drums, guitar, DGH’s vocals) with the addition of a Wurlitzer, the song is a mid-tempo tune that showcases the keys and Harmann’s emotive vocals. There’s no aggression here, whereas the last track had the threat of it everywhere. It’s beautiful in a way that hearkens back to his previous work.
This tension goes back and forth throughout the album. “Bastion” is a piano-led indie-pop tune with trembling vocals. The guitar-driven “It’s Fine, It’s Fine” is one of the fastest rock tunes. “New Concerns” encompasses both feelings at once: it’s one of the heaviest tracks here, with a biting guitar tone, brittle vocals, and ominous piano undertones. But there’s also a glorious, dramatic, Muse-esque piano run halfway through that evokes a different mood on top of the one that’s already there. It’s a complex tune with a lot of payoff. Closer “Elkland” meshes the two ideas even more, layering chiming guitar notes over a gritty rhythm guitar to play with the distance between aggression and mourning. It’s evocative, to say the least.
Daniel G. Harmann’s White Mountains offers up complex, satisfying compositions. Harmann’s distinctive voice adds character to the evocative tunes that play with the borders between rock and indie-pop, resulting in an album that doesn’t sound quite like anything else going on. Harmann has honed his craft to a fine point with this release, and it’s worth checking out for any fan of “indie rock,” broadly conceived. Pre-order it here, then start with “New Concerns.”
The back half of my SXSW-agnostic MP3 drop lands, featuring quieter sounds.
1. “Hold on Hurricane” – Cancellieri. The production balances a delicate vocal performance with a crisp, fingerpicked acoustic guitar line for a moving tune that’s one of the best singles of the year so far.
2. “Comatose” – Hayden Calnin. Can you imagine The National and James Blake getting together? Calnin is the best we have of that approximation piano/rich baritone/post-dub mashup. A gorgeously evocative and theatrical (but not flamboyant) performance from Calnin. One to watch in 2014.
3. “Foreverever” – Daniel G. Harmann. DGH has cultivated a distinct mood to his solo work over the years, and this mournful cut fits neatly with his oeuvre of longing, yearning, intimate recordings. A beautiful cut.
4. “Faultlines” – Field Division. Indie folk with Local Natives’ sense of rhythm, Fleet Foxes’ vocal arrangements, and First Aid Kit’s hushed intensity & towering female vocals. Way yes.
5. “Chris Bell” – M. Lockwood Porter. A moving country-rock song for the gone-too-soon former guitarist of Big Star. If you sense Neil Young and The Jayhawks in here, you’re not the only one.
6. “Onwards” – Bird Friend. Anything that echoes the early years of The Mountain Goats’ lo-fi recordings gets my attention. That strum! That lyricism! That brash mood! Wonderful.
7. “Who We Are” – Sonali. This thoughtful female-fronted adult-alternative track shows incredible restraint: after introducing a massive hook up front, that super-catchy vocal melody appears only sparingly throughout the tune. That’s one way to get people listening.
8. “Stay There, I’ll Come to You (Sleepers Work Remix)” – Jonah Parzen-Johnson. JPJ writes spiky, intense, amazing tunes on baritone saxophone and analog recorder. This remix sees one of those tracks get a spaced-out, lush re-envisioning that removes a lot of the raw brazenness of the original.
9. “Snowy Mountain“- Sebastian Brkic. The prolific Brkic (Cyan Marble) takes a break from post-punk freakouts to drop some synthy, walking-speed indie-pop. This’ll make your head bob.
10. “Dreaming While Awake” – Professor Bashti. Brkic also does psych-inspired instrumental/experimental guitar music. Because prolific.
11. “Ellis Bell” – The Cold and Lovely. Moody, wall-of-sound indie-rock that calls up Silversun Pickups, but with a female vocalist.
A ton of great singles have come my way in January, so I thought I’d put them all in one big post arranged quiet to loud. Enjoy!
1. “Pacific (Acoustic)” – Indigo Wild. Were you looking for a rolling, intricate, acoustic mountain jam? Like Fleet Foxes if they were less hazy, this will make you long for the pines.
2. “Anna” – Daniel G. Harmann. After graduating his solo project The Trouble Starts up to a full-on rock outfit, Harmann gives old-school fans a few tracks that hearken back to his early, dreamy days. His trembling, soaring voice over spare guitar chords is just wonderful to these ears.
4. “Slow & Easy” – Scott H. Biram. Less gospel and more ominous vibes mark the second Biram single off Nothin’ But Blood. It’s still incredibly engaging, what with the crisp production and Biram’s voice.
5. “Celeste” – Ezra Vine. If you’re of the opinion that you can never have enough hand claps, whoa-ohs, and happy melodies, raise your hand. Then lower that hand and click on this peppy, wonderful tune.
6. “Girl Don’t Fight It” – Phone Home. Optimistic, keys-heavy, proggy indie-rock in the vein of Fang Island, And So I Watch You From Afar, and others. It’s giddy and heavy and intelligent!
7. “Planets” – Little Earthquake. Peppy acoustic-pop + massive MGMT synth melodies = this unique song.
9. “Violent Shooting Stars” – Robot Princess. Mostly RP is a heavy, exuberant, video-game-infused garage-pop band (WEEZER FOREVER!!). This track puts them more in a pensive mood (at least for them) before ratcheting up to some stomping guitars. Get your power-pop on, dudes.
10. “Bird in the Water” – The Trouble Starts. Harmann’s band, throwing down pop-rock a la Snow Patrol. This would be fun to hear live.
11. “Tangle” – Acid Fast. Starts out with a nostalgic, emo-esque half-time section, then blasts off into a punk rock second half. The melodies bounce off those basement walls with almost more cymbals and passion than you can handle.
So I didn’t post much in June, so all of the June singles are getting posted now. This means that instead of one mix, there are two: a loud one and a quiet one. I’ll start today with the loud one.
1. “Strange Thing” – DL Rossi. Pedro the Lion has left few followers in the emotive alt-rock space, but DL Rossi is a welcome addition to the space. He also brings in Bazan’s qualms with Christianity, although Rossi seems to hold fast to the tenets of the faith while contending with some practices of Christianity. Also, he has a Mumford-ian penchant for dramatic f-bombing.
2. “Glaciers” – The Trouble Starts. Daniel G. Harmann has completed his transition from bedroom indie-pop hero to rock band by dropping his name off the front of the group. Here’s a roiling, churning example of the newly-christened group’s output. Foo Fighters’ fans will approve.
3. “All the Lights in New York” – Autumn Owls. The fractured folk of Autumn Owls casts its foggy, urban, streetlight glow on you. You smile uncertainly, and step forward into the gloom.
4. “We Are the Dreamers” – The Stargazer Lilies. Shoegazer Lilies, maybe, plus some Portishead dread and staccato stomp. Overall, a very different dream than Teen Daze’s chillwave dreaming. But still quite engaging!
5. “Be Someone” – Post War Years. The Postal Service + Passion Pit = Post War Years. Clicky, hooky, fun, and now with 100% more xylophone!
6. “Cut Free” – The Alibis. Yo, this ’90s-style Brit-pop track is all about the excellent bass player. I look forward to more fascinating work from this band.
7. “Bystander” – Shotgun No Blitz. Shotgun No Blitz might be the best possible pop-punk name, calling up youthful games, playful but aggressive contact, friendly agreement, and speed. And the spread offense, which I just like.
8. “We’re the Kids” – Parade of Lights. New formula for massive single: use the word kids, employ that specific synth noise, and crank the bass. MONEY.
Even listeners who obsess over their favorite bands do not spend as much time with the tunes as the artist who created them does. This uncomplicated fact should be reason enough for artists to routinely change sounds and for listeners to accept those changes. Sadly, this is often not the case. “I’ve just got a connection to that one album, y’know?” For that reason, I try to give a wide berth to bands that want to change it up.
I say that because Daniel G. Harmann‘s Risk is a change of sound. It’s not a dramatic change in sound (i.e. Plans –> Narrow Stairs), but it is a fundamental shift in the purpose of the tunes. While Harmann still makes grand, sweeping, morose tunes, he’s making them this time with the express intent of rocking while doing it. Note the fact that he’s brought along a band, cleverly titled “the Trouble Starts.”
While Harmann was no stranger to distorted guitars, pre-Risk, they weren’t the central mood marker in most tunes. Here, they are: Harmann’s voice, which previously drove the proceedings, takes an equal seat with the guitars in many songs. This is not a bad thing, but for a guy who absolutely loves The Books We Read Will Bury Us, it’s disorienting to hear a distorted version of Books’ “Solidarity” appear on Risk. I could write a whole post on the differences between the two versions, but that wouldn’t tell you much about the album as a whole.
On the other hand, it’s comforting that he did include some old tracks (the entirety of Our Arms EP appears), as it eases the transition some. If he had just dropped a whole album of tunes like “Estrella” on us oldtimers with no warning, there would have been a lot of weeping.
That’s because “Estrella,” in the vernacular of rock’n’roll, absolutelykills it. I’m talking charging guitars, pounding drums, rushing cymbals, Daniel G. Harmann yelling unintelligibly in the roar and epic strings to top it all off. It sounds like Explosions in the Sky. It is absolutely fantastic, and totally unexpected. It is far and away the highlight of the album, as it’s the one that you’ll be pressing repeat for.
There are other moments on the album of similar but not greater caliber. The playful riff of “Auckland to Auckland” is underscored by a complicated tom pattern. “The Horse and the Sistine Chapel” is a straightforward rock song, albeit with Harmann’s decidedly unstraightforward vocal tone. “Lions” even starts out with a guitar riff as opposed to a big sheet of distortion. In short, Daniel G. Harmann really wants to rock out. So he does.
Is it good? Yes. It’s definitely good. Harmann’s aforementioned vocals and unique melodies keep the proceedings from turning into a Silversun Pickups album (although “Lions,” with its male/female vocals, tries really hard to ape their sound), and the band is incredibly tight behind him. They manage to keep Harmann’s more ambient tendencies in check, which is good for his new rock sound. Things never get monotonous, as they well could have, had he just slapped distortion over his old songwriting ideas.
I like Risk. It’s a well-composed album of rock tunes with occasional forays into mellow romanticism. As I skew toward the calmer side of music most of the time, I prefer the fewer moments of mopey emotionalism (” Knob Creek Neat”) to the squalling stomp of “Brass Tacks,” which is the majority sound. Be not swayed, though: Risk has definitive charms (again: “Estrella” destroys it) that I would be slighting if I passed over the album. If you’re a fan of art-powered, moody rock like Silversun Pickups, Radiohead, Smashing Pumpkins, and things of that ilk, you will find many joys in Risk.
Daniel G. Harmann and the Trouble Starts’ Risk drops Tuesday. Get it here.
Daniel G. Harmann‘s Our Arms has been kicking around my iTunes far too long without a review. I sat down to listen to it so I could review it, and I realized that I’ve already been listening to it. The three songs on this EP have been through my shuffle, at the end of DGH’s other albums in my iTunes, and generally in my brain for longer than I have realized.
It makes it incredibly easy to sit down and write this review. Harmann’s basic sound is a hyper-romantic, extra-melodic, beauty-washed soundscape; I coined the term “rainy day makeout music” while listening to a Harmann album. That’s just what the music sounds like. This time out, though, DGH has himself a band named The Trouble Starts, making the proper name of this release Our Arms by Daniel G. Harmann and the Trouble Starts. Does the band make a difference in the sound that I so love from DGH?
Well, sort of. Opener “I Became the Ground” is much more upbeat than anything I can remember previously. It still retains the extremely emotional, hyper-romantic vibe, but it’s not as rainy in tone. It’s oddly reminiscent of the jangly pop that Death Cab for Cutie has been churning out these days, and even a little similar to Anberlin’s slower-tempo work. It doesn’t stray too far from the tree, but it’s definitely a new seed in the ground.
“Dee,” however, is a return to normalcy. The song plods along gloriously, with each individual part making stately entrances and exits. The mood is the same one that I have come to know of DGH, and after hearing a deviation from it in “I Became the Ground,” it’s very welcome. The chiming guitar line pushes this song forward as the vocals try to drag it back; the tension makes this an incredibly effective song.
“Knob Creek Neat” is somewhere in the middle. The presence of the Trouble Starts is felt, as there’s a less dreamy feel to the work and much more aggressive moments throughout. But it never breaks the morose tempo that DGH is most comfortable with. The song may be a lot more direct than his previous work, but the Trouble Starts haven’t broken him of slow, dreamy soundscapes: the chorus of the song features his trademark vocal trick (it’s a certain interval jump that I wish I was smart enough musically to name), and the aggressiveness falls out in favor of layered guitar parts and melodicism.
This three-song EP shows that Daniel G. is spreading his wings a bit by heading out with a band in tow. But he’s still the performer that I love, and a couple new members isn’t going to change that. This EP is the best possible way to move forward: one foot in the new, one foot in the old, and one in the middle. I’ll let you deal with the mental image of a three-legged man. Good work, Mr. Harmann. Good work.
An honest, wear your emotions on your sleeve, ambient wave of a down to earth work of art.
Stuffing Daniel G. Harmann into the emo/indie genre would be a slap in the face to this compassionate artist. Just as heartfelt as rhythms from New Order, Daniel G. Harmann is a solo man that makes his music out of pure honesty.
Harmann’s voice quivers with the melodies of his songs. In “A Dying Dove” his gentle voice conveys the stage of his life as someone who is searching for their place in a world full of turmoil. Daniel G. Harmann brings subtle beauty through his songs, something that should be admired.
Harmann’s simple, sometimes repetitive lyrics like in “I’ve Turned To a Life of Crime” make the album flow from track to track almost as if weightlessly. Harmann whispers, speaks softly, takes deep breaths and blossoms throughout this album.
It is hard not to appreciate an album such as this on a day spent out in the sun on a blanket just for you or inside sipping coffee while it sprinkles rain. The album can apply to many stages of life, which is masterful even if Harmann meant to or not.
I’ll go to sleep tonight listening to “Go Now, Rush Ashore” and in the morning I’ll wake listening to Harmann’s gentle anthems. Luckily for us, Harmann provides the perfect soundtrack to help pull us through good and bad times in his fourth CD that I beseech anyone who is a self respecting music lover to pick up!
The album starts off earnestly enough. There are light, ethereal keyboards that lift the song off the ground and let it float in mid air for the listener to breathe in. Then you listen some more and its no use, you’re sucked in. It’s slow, mesmerizing, thoughtful, sad, and hopeful. It’s the voice of one man who is pained but in the midst of his anguish can feel brave enough to stand up against it. It’s a beautiful thing, really. In the cracks of the songs, Daniel’s fragile voice yelps and yearns for hope, love, and acceptance. At first, one might be reminded of Owen, but there is more rock and less folk in this offering. At some points, I even hear a little Third Eye Blind or anything that was being played on the radio in the mid 90’s. Again, it’s a beautiful thing.
Somewhere in the rainy streets of Seattle, Daniel wrote this album and would probably watch the weather go from rainy to sunny and back again. In the time of rain there was almost a hope that the sun would come out. When the sun was shining, there was always a threat of the sky to break open drench the city. This theme is highly apparent in The Lake Effect. Daniel knows that life can be hard and full of rainy days but he still believes in the sunshine. This theme is perhaps the underlying nature of our human existence. We are all doomed to suffer in one way another, but we go on before we have hope. It’s brilliantly fundamental.
Mood-encompassing indie-pop that will calm and soothe you with lush beauty.
I love indie-pop, in all varities. I love Sufjan’s jubilant theatrics, The Postal Service’s blippy electronic pop, Fountains of Wayne’s pristine guitar pop, the Mountain Goats’ delicate acoustic songs, and Novi Split’s fractured half-songs. I love all of it – but there’s a special place in my heart for a small sub-genre of indie-pop that I have lovingly labeled “Rainy Day Makeout Music.” Daniel G. Harmann may not know that he is one of the superstars in this specialized arena, but with The Books We Read Will Bury Us, he has vaulted himself into the upper echelon of this tiny group.
What constitutes “Rainy Day Makeout Music”? It’s surprisingly easy to pin down, although not a lot of people set out to make music like this. It’s basically muted, muffled, shuffling, dreary music – beautiful, full songs that seem full to bursting with parts but just don’t seem to be in a hurry to get anywhere. The members of Meryll are the experts at making moving music that hardly moves at all, but Daniel G. Harmann certainly is challenging them.
Harmann’s music is totally encompassing in the fact that it controls the mood of any room it is played in. The songs are inescapably beautiful – perched right on the brink where nostalgia becomes regret and sleepiness becomes disappointment, but never falling over into the downer side. It is comforting music – music that makes me want to get wrapped up in a blanket, watch the rain fall, and, well, leisurely make out with a girl.
The great thing about this music is that it doesn’t really matter which track is which – while each track has something unique to offer, it’s really the mood that is set from the first ten seconds onward that is the draw of this album. For what it’s worth, the track that I find most engaging is “Last Swim of the Year,” which rides on a moseying, muted drum beat and a non-invasive, circular acoustic guitar line. The guitar line is layered on top of repeatedly, but the swaying forward motion of the underlying acoustic track paired with the lazy, contented swagger of the kit drummer keeps the track from getting bogged down in the weight of its own layers. The vocals are fragile and perfect, floating above the music in a way that begs for a very cheesy analogy to something like waves or small birds. Just consider them amazing, ok?
The only part of this album that I don’t find amazing is the unfortunate “Solidarity.” It’s not a terrible song – no, the unfortunate quality is that the warbly vocal performance is not nearly up to the stunner that is “Last Swim of the Year.” Did I mention that “Solidarity” directly follows “Last Swim…”? Total buzzkill.
But “She Hears a Frequency” picks up where “Last Swim of the Year” left off by introducing a swooning cello, and all is righted. And honestly, if one slice of one song on a half-hour long album is the only thing I can find wrong, you’re doing some pretty stellar work.
Daniel G. Harmann’s work on The Books We Read Will Bury Us will encompass your mood for a half-hour. Prepare to be soothed, calmed and wowed. And seeing as this is an iTunes-only release that’s merely 6 songs long, the album is cheap. You do not want to miss out on this beautiful piece of (inexpensive) art. This album definitely will be on my best of 2007 list.
Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.