I'm currently suffering from lack of sleep, balloon-head compliments of cold medication, and the kind of artificial buzz one gets from downing a quick can of Mountain Dew. It is from this unique combination of mental vertigo and alacrity that I am finally able to fully appreciate A Prayer for Every Hour, the first album from New Jersey's Danielson Famile, originally released in 1995.
Started as a Rutgers BFA thesis project, Danielson Famile is an actual family with Daniel, the oldest child, serving as the chaotic bandleader. Daniel writes the songs, sings (sort of), plays guitar, and leads his siblings in performing the twenty-four songs on this album. The concept of the album is that one should listen to one song at the beginning of each hour for maximum effect.
Their sound is wholly unique and will either drag you in or send you screaming for aspirin. Succinctly, it's the gospel muppets on crack. Daniel sings in a squeaky falsetto voice that demands your attention, piercing the misty haze of your mental doldrums. Musically there's the angular changes of the Pixies with elements of Heavy Vegetable, Chris Knox, and Pere Ubu, all played with approximate rhythms and "whatever is on hand" instrumentation. Some songs, such a "Nice of Me" and "In The Malls Not Of Them" have a Violent Femmes Hallowed Ground-era feel, being dark, sparse, edgy and almost creepy. "What To Wear" begins with a cappella "Row Your Boat" before jumping into pan flutes, distorted guitar, and doubled squeaky vocals. Very few follow accepted songwriting formats and all rhythms are approximate, leaving the listener constantly unsettled.
The other unique aspect of this band is their odd combination of such avant-garde music with a Christian worldview. "Like A Vacuum" opens with "If I were a tree/ My branches would be broken / But my roots would be so deep / I'd be sucking water like a vacuum" and later changes to "I may be silly but I laugh more than you", ending with deranged laughter (and he laughs as strangely as he sings). In "1,000 Push-ups" he squeals "I spoke to God and told Him I screwed up again / He said, "Dan, give me ten push-ups." All of the lyrics follow in this heartfelt, innocent, off-kilter vein, which is why I'm fairly certain you won't be singing these songs in church anytime soon.
As if the music wasn't deranged enough, this re-release contains a second CD containing four videos. Sweet mother of God, are these videos whacked! Sporting the same low-fi, DIY ethic as the music is a roughly animated tutorial on how to use the first CD, narrated by a piece-mail horse that screams as he's dismembered and reassembled into a clock. Priceless. There are also two videos of their first live performance and a concept video for "Heads in Da Cloudz" that is so low budget that it can't even afford an analogy. The music of Danielson Famile is fun, whacked, original, and real. It's home schooling gone very, very wrong.
This review first appeared in WhatzUp, September 2002.