The restless and prolific Daniel Romano returns with Modern Pressure, his latest world-weary collection of poems, feelings and social commentary set to music.
The record blossomed out of time spent in seclusion at a cabin in Scandinavia, and comes one year on from his last album, Mosey. The two are close companions, sharing a penchant for the days of old — both stylistically and production-wise — and both having some heavy things to say, paired to beautifully composed music. It would be hard to argue that Romano shouldn't be labeled as a genius, even if he's a mad one, constantly transforming lest he tire of his former self, always staying one step ahead. As anyone who's seen him perform live could tell you, you never really see the same version of Romano twice.
Adding to the 1960s flair that Mosey laid out are more jangly guitars, more experimentation: backwards guitars, backmasking, sitar and tabla, and an organ tone that would make Bob Dylan of 1965 cry. Some tunes end with a neat little shift of sonic scenery — also like Mosey, though these tend to be far more psychedelic and also act as a way to introduce or evoke song themes (the end of track four, "The Pride of Queens," ends with a swirling mix of instrumentation as Romano croons, "I want to feel you, impossible green," foreshadowing track eight, "Impossible Green").
There's plenty of prettiness here, though — "Roya," a warm tune that Romano calls "a celebration of women," and the sweet "When I Learned Your Name" (which may be the catchiest cut Romano's ever penned) — as well as rougher cuts like "The Pride of Queens," which takes its first steps in Dylan's direction before dipping in an alleyway for a rough riff in the spirit of punk. "I Tried to Hold the World in My Mouth," meanwhile, is a melodic jangle of Indian instrumentation, pace switch-ups, an electric guitar's groan and Romano's drawl, nearly as deep as Cash's.
Lead track "Ugly Human Heart" is split into two parts, both of which are bouncy delights that belie a lyrical depth. Both share one of the album's most memorable drumbeats, a punchy, rollicking run that's rivalled only by the bass that trips down the scale on "Modern Pressure" for the most fun moment on the record. But it's not all fun: After praising the titular songwriter on "Jennifer Castle," Romano takes other fellow songwriters to task for their disingenuousness later in the song, singing that, "There's a lack of sincerity in the words you try to write / Yes, you're cheapening the sentiments that you're trying to make."
Modern Pressure feels vibrant and impassioned, adding a freshness to the otherwise vintage sound. It's the work of someone who truly pours their heart and soul into perfecting every song, scratching out and rewriting every lyric. Here's looking forward to whatever form Romano will take next. (New West)