While Daniel Romano has found great success exposing his Country & Western inspirations over the last few years (both 2011’s Sleep Beneath The Willows and 2013’s Come Cry With Me got longlisted for the Polaris Music Prize in those respective years), it’s refreshing and relieving to hear that the singer has elected to turn up and speed up for the new project he has called Ancient Shapes. Of course, the name of the project could easily be assumed to be a “retro” or “throwback” outting, but the fact is that that Ancient Shapes (the album) is more of a ‘punk’ album than Romano has ever dared to attempt previously [early albums by Attack In Black were more ‘hardcore’ affairs] and stands as an outstanding new work in its own right.
As soon as the stylus sinks into the A-side of Ancient Shapes, listeners will find themselves awestruck by the change in Romano’s demeanor as “Public Hymns” squeals out to open the record. There, the singer just breaks out running and pushing lean, sinewy punk sonics along as well as really pushing his voice out through his nose in order to get up into a higher register and the results are glorious; sounding as though it could have sped out of New York’s Lower East Side circa 1974 (and fit easily into a multi-band bill which also featured The Dictators, Blondie and Richard Hell and the Voidoids), “Public Hymns” blurs out and really hooks listeners with the urgency and immediacy of its performance (lines like “Tonight I’m gonna wear a Chinese shirt/ Tonight I’m gonna put a blanket over my scars/ I’m gonna find a big volcano/ And jump to the bottom just to prove how lucky we are” will just ring in the ears of listeners and push pulses skyward). There is simply no denying Romano’s attack here as different parts of the song (guitars and bass, primarily) leap rhythmically from both the left and right channels and, by the end, listeners will be hooked; the blur may leave their minds reeling, but they’ll want more.
Happily, more is just what they’ll get – because no single track breaks stride from the tempo set by “Public Hymns.” Romano pushes his already fairly nasal vocal delivery up to reach even higher registers through songs like “The Dance of The Blossoming Selves” (which sounds like it could easily be a Strokes song – with its overdriven guitar accents), “I Wanna Put My Tears Back In” (which sounds like it could be another country song on paper, but is built like a Ramones rocker in practice) and “Fearless Death Tomorrow” (which owes to The Dictators, unquestionably) and lets each simply blurt out for listeners to try and absorb; no effort has been made to clean, buff or inflate any of those songs with extra furnishings like solos or bridges, each is just an “in-out-and-done” assault, and then the way is cleared for the next. That kind of development quickly becomes the thing listeners love and expect of Ancient Shapes and they’ll quickly find that they’re perfectly alright with that – so much so that they’ll find themselves dismayed when the side ends. When it does though, they’ll realize that Romano just rampaged through ten songs in about sixteen minutes and they won’t just want more, they’ll need more.
The catch is that they won’t get more – not exactly. After they excitedly flip Ancient Shapes over and sink the needle into it, they’ll discover more of the same, literally – the B-side reprises the ten songs on the A-side. Now, on one hand, it could be argued that replicating the same ten songs on both sides of the album is handy because it saves the possibility of one side being overplayed, but it doesn’t change the fact that listeners will still be hungry for more of what Romano has done with Ancient Shapes. This is where the singer “gets his punk back” and it proves to be a welcome return for some longtime fans.
(You’ve Changed Records)
Ancient Shapes is out now. Buy it here, directly from You’ve Changed Records. youvechangedrecords.com/product/ancient-shapes-ancient-shapes
Released May 27, 2016.