In casual conversation, politics are possible, even if precarious. Religion, though, is the really impassable road, the one talking point permanently bound to big trouble. Daniel Smith–the leader of an evolving troupe of performers named Br. Danielson, Danielson Famile or simply Danielson for nearly 15 years–either never received that lecture or refused to accept it.
“The children, they are desperately needing to be set free/ They are afraid, but so are we/ This cannot be,” Smith shrills in his eccentrically high voice during the first three minutes of Danielson’s latest album, Ships. “See hope, our captain riding throughout these heavens bringing peace/ We’re shipping out our men again/ Oh, I pray it will end.”
Smith and his band have been plying the same trade since the mid-’90s, defying orthodoxy and suppliantly celebrating God through confessions of secular woes and aspirations of welkin sights. But Ships–a record made by 34 people, including Sufjan Stevens, all of Deerhoof and parts of Why?, Half-handed Cloud and Serena Maneesh–propels that ethos to a fever pitch, just as the use of Christianity to validate misanthropy (hopefully) reaches its popular apex. Ships is a communal proclamation brimming with contagious zeal: Hyper-convoluted, over-excited hymns shouted by a dozen people, Polyphonic Spree-sized power and orchestral instrumentation (drums, glockenspiels, xylophones, flutes, violins … guitars, drums, bass) overwhelming songs written as multi-melodic mindtraps. It’s a Christian-family circus with Technicolor appeal.
After all, “Christian rock” has never before sounded so sympathetic to not-necessarily-religious concerns. Even Pedro the Lion sounded as though David Bazan needed you to commiserate with his questions of faith, not the other way around, and Stevens always seems to be seeking permission for his semi-religious musings.
But Danielson’s Smith stands boldly by and for his faith while offering his associations with Christianity as allegories for the world-weary layman: He has failed his wellspring. It has not failed him. For Smith, religion is for communal healing, not for proprietary, militaristic wielding.
After all, if, as Danielson posits, this is a ship sailing through the galaxy, individual mutiny is a communal problem worth fixing, not obliterating. Christian or no, that’s an extended metaphor the world could stand to shout together.
Danielson performs with Clang Quartet at Local 506 on Monday, July 3 at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $8-$10.