Long known for darkly distorting traditional American popular song styles — inspiring collaborations with David Lynch and Jarvis Cocker along the way — Daniel Knox’s latest work signals a new, more wide-ranging songwriting that invites listeners into his twisted world of time travel, abandoned shopping centres, and growing up in a slowly fading middle America.
Comprised of ten original songs inspired by shadowy memories of Knox’s childhood hometown of Springfield, IL, as well as two recent collaborative performances with noted photographer John Atwood, the album features Knox’s powerful and unique baritone along with backing vocals from The Handsome Family’s Brett Sparks and vibraphone by Thor Harris (Bill Callahan, Swans, Shearwater), all backed by a large ensemble of brass, strings, woodwinds, choir, synthesisers and other musicians. ‘Everything that came out of that,’ says Knox about his work with Atwood, ‘and the work that followed, seems rooted thematically in the past, but the structures and arrangements felt like something new that had been there all along–like finding a hidden room in the house you grew up in.’
Several of the songs in this collection were composed while in residency at Robert Wilson’s Watermill Center in January 2012. Recordings took place there, in Knox’s Chicago apartment, in a makeshift studio in an industrial building with Justin Dennis, and at Chicago’s famed Electrical Audio with engineer Greg Norman.
Knox has previously collaborated with artists such as David Lynch and Jarvis Cocker (contributing backing vocals to the latter’s Further Complications album) and he has scored for film (The Poisoner, dir. Chris Hefner) and theatre (Mary-Arrchie Theater Co’s The Glass Menagerie, Annie Baker’s The Aliens at The Pushkin Theater in Moscow, dir. Adrian Giurgea). He has performed with The Handsome Family,Richard Buckner, Swans, Josephine Foster, Jon Langford, Nina Nastasia, Rufus Wainwright, Andrew Bird andMarc Ribot.
Main support comes from Elle Mary of Elle Mary & The Bad Men. Drawn to the communicative and bonding qualities of ‘folk’ but explorative beyond its stylistic connotations; enough of a pack member to want a band yet also keen to imbue a sense of solitude through her music, Elle Mary is an artist who operates best when balancing conflicting instincts.
Opening the show is Mark from The Happy Soul, a melodic vocal group from Manchester. They make subversive popular music, and are better than their dwindling fanbase suggests.