Br. Danielson (The Danielson Famile): Brother:Son
Genre: Far afield alternative pop with strongly Christian lyrics Label: Secretly Canadian
By Steve Morley
(UMCom) -- Unless you’re well acquainted with the bizarre end of the musical continuum, it’s safe to say you’ve never heard anything like The Danielson Famile. To say that this New Jersey-based band of siblings is quirky sounding is like saying the Grand Canyon is a big hole in the ground. Quirky is an understatement. The family name is Smith, and the Daniel part of the group’s moniker comes from de facto leader Daniel Smith, who is to songwriting what Picasso is to portrait painting. His fractured, unorthodox songs and piercing falsetto vocals have made the band a darling of pop’s avant-garde. Onstage, the members wear white hospital scrubs with embroidered hearts to represent God’s healing within them, while Daniel performs from inside a cardboard tree to symbolize that he is rooted in Christ. This has not won the band many converts in the Christian community, which finds the group far too radical to be embraced by the church. Much like Jesus himself in his years of ministry on Earth, The Danielson Famile offends non-believers and believers alike with a controversial style of proclaiming the Gospel.
While it’s unfortunate that the band’s passionate spiritual sentiments can find no home among Christians en masse, one must concede that the Famile’s sound is, to the average ear, grating and initially alienating. On the group’s sixth recording, Brother:Son, Smith’s songs refuse to adhere to even the most basic rules of song craft, lurching between various tempos and styles without warning. The track "Sweet Sweeps," for instance, moves from its moody opening to a rollicking but momentary Mamas & Papas-like feel and then to a Frank Zappa-esque stream of consciousness section before concluding with a lightly rocking rhythm. The group can be crashing and frenetic ("Our Givest") or, as on "Perennial Wine," maintain the same droning guitar strum for four minutes with only minimal variation. Believe it or not, these tracks are more accessible than past efforts. Daniel Smith is a musically gifted, modern-day John the Baptist, faithfully carrying out his peculiar calling with no concern about the pointers and whisperers, let alone the loud complainers, and there have been more than a few in the band’s nearly 10 years.
The triumph of The Danielson Famile is that the group has found a place to dwell within the secular alternative subculture where they can freely spew lyrics as biblical as they are twisted: "you give gifts and destroy all our enemy’s plans/ when at the dance I dropped the leading lady you caught her for me." On the title track, the kids all chime in cheerily on a family analogy that closes with the slightly paraphrased words of Jesus: "to tell you all the truth, the son can only do what he sees his papa do." For most of us, the Word might be more easily consumed in traditional forms. Still, it bears saying that The Danielson Famile’s intricate and unpredictable music is a remarkable, if bewildering, accomplishment. On Brother:Son, the group proves God’s creative breadth is indeed limitless.
Steve Morley is a free-lance music journalist living in College Grove, Tenn.
This review was developed by UMC.org, the official online ministry of The United Methodist Church.