Perhaps you're reading this review because you know who Steve Taylor is. If you do, you'll already more than likely have taken the opportunity to listen to this short, sharp blast of acerbic proto-punk goodness. Perhaps you're a longtime fan of Daniel Smith, the man behind Danielson and Danielson Familie, and you're intrigued to see what all this is about. Again though, I would wager, you're coming to this review having already formed your opinion about this EP. Perhaps, lastly, you're something of a Steve Albini completist, and you want to know what all the fuss is about, why he has been so effusive about the quality of this record in recent interviews he has given.
For the rest of you, unsure who Steve Taylor & The Danielson Foil might be (I may have given it away in the opening paragraph), how the EP came in to existence, or more pertinently, why you should care, the short answer is this: Steve Taylor is one of the greatest lyricists of the last 30 years. He and his band, The Perfect Foil, toured promoting their last album, Goliath, with Danielson as support. During this tour, their not inconsiderable talents combined to write these songs, which they then recorded with mutual acquaintance Steve Albini. Et voila!
And what a punch it packs. Weighing in at six songs and a little over a quarter of an hour, there's a danger this could all feel a little insubstantial and stopgap-ish, but far from it. From the moment the opening title track gets into its stride with the first of many lyrics of potency “Let it slide to the other side where the war is over" its repeated refrain from Smith of 'we have a winner', this feels vital. As things musically teeter on the brink of loss of control, the glorious crescendo effected by John Mark Painter's guitar, the bass of Jimmy Abegg and the drums of Peter Furler provides a sumptuous backdrop to the tension as Taylor and Smith cry “Put the wow back in the deadness, Back as you want it now, love as you want it (now)". That it packs so much into its 2.36 runtime is instructive of what is to follow. Taylor and his cohorts aren't messing around.
'Wait Up Downstep' has a rolling gait and a memorable, “Wait, stop and wait" call to pause and reflect. 'The Dust Patrol' begins with a furiously formidable guitar-driven 60 seconds full of energy before the briefest of brass-infused interludes brings the EP's only moment of calm. Just as breath is caught, however, the song careers forward once again to its cacophonous climax. 'Nonchalant' asks “Telekinetic voices, whispered emoticons, is that all?” questioning the insincerity of modern communication, whilst on 'A Muse', Taylor reminds his listeners that “It's my party, you're lucky to be here” over yet another fabulous slice of furiously intelligent instrumentation. 'Drats' draws things to a close, almost before they've begun, with the poignant final call and response lyric “Be still and speak, day by day, my delight, my delight”. Throughout the song, the time signature switches between a pretty, rolling 6/8 verse and a driving 4/4 chorus. Perhaps here is the ultimate illustration of the success of this collaboration, as it encapsulates the best of the work of Steve Taylor and Daniel Smith. Whether this EP is all that stems from this project, or if there is more to come in the future, there can be no doubt that in Wow To the Deadness we have one of 2016's most beguiling and potentially intimidating musical debuts.
7Haydon Spenceley's Score