A Quirky Weave
Posies alum and occasional R.E.M. wingman Ken Stringfellow seizes the role of singer–songwriter once again in his fourth solo release, Danzig in the Moonlight, coming almost eight years after a previous entry in Soft Commands, and it shows. This is eight years’ worth the content, an album densely packed with manifold networks of information—one that plays the hummingbird and cross-pollinates genres no differently than its pandimensional binaries of love and lust, nature and knowledge and the sacred and profane. At turns well-worn folk (“You’re the Gold”), surreal bossa nova (“Superwise”) and even Fender-jangling spy music (“Drop Your Pride”)—and that’s not the half of it—Ken leapfrogs from petal to petal almost dangerously, yet somehow remains safe in the same pond. Context and continuity are maintained in an almost macrocosmic way, like a Google Maps shot of Manhattan and the outer boroughs: Somehow Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx are all New York.
The album’s literate groundwork becomes the main attraction in “History Buffs,” where dampened piano chords are caressed rather than played and the singer’s high, troubled voice waxes rhapsodic about the Rock of Gibraltar and long-lost Aegean virtues. “Come on, old Socrates, give up all your ghosts now,” sings Ken, entreating the ancient past to redeem us from an Iron Age modernity. The song’s verse melody sounds close to Neil Young’s “Old Man,” then spins into an urgent, double-time chorus rife with Darwinian references. At the same time erudite and fragile, Ken coheres electronic and pop elements with a ballad of classical romance and Atlantian wonder. It’s the whole gyro platter.
A wariness of today’s social landscape appears and reappears as one of many threads throughout the album. Opening number “Jesus Was an Only Child” goes half and half with an angel–devil dynamic, beginning with Ken whispering soft words steeped in dovelike beauty, only to head fake into the persona of a greedy Wallstreet vampire. “Oh Christ, lemme run some numbers for you,” he slithers. Concurrently, and on a more petty level, Ken offers a hearty “deuces” to all the haters who’ve since moved on to newer and cooler things in “Shittalkers.” Confessional, funny and chock full of words, a Wainwright kind of candidness is shown—either Loudon or Rufus—especially in his direct address to offenders as “unlicensed dog-walkers” and “unpaid beauty thieves.” Clever turns of phrase like these are almost without number in Danzig in the Moonlight.
So much can be said of the density of this album. There’s the genre-bending tension of “Odorless, Colorless, Tasteless,” the irony and self-loathing of the Al Green sendup, “Pray,” and the Thoreau-like rusticness of “110 or 220V,” where toward the end you’re halfway expecting the spectres of Hank Williams and Woodie Guthrie to appear and nod approvingly as Yoda and Obi-Wan at the end of Return of the Jedi. At the risk of being as wordy as Ken can be, the truth is you’d be hard-pressed to run out of adjectives describing the peaks-and-valleys morphology of this album. Its singer–songwriter dimensions glitter silverly, strangely—and with varying strands of pet fascination. Danzig in the Moonlight is a quirky weave, an alt-rocker’s personal and convincing vision, and its total digestion calls for more than a few listens.