Daniel McCrystal is a recent college graduate, soon to begin working as a software engineer. He was the keyboard player for the band Stereonet, and based on this first solo album, he’s clearly a skilled musician. As with many of us, he found himself stuck at home during quarantine and decided to record these songs in his basement. I’m not positive but I believe he also plays guitar and programs the drum tracks. His vocals are good, though always treated in some way, sometimes beyond comprehension.
In his notes McCrystal states he wanted to give every composition a different feel: “I never want to make the same song twice.” Sometimes he practically doesn’t make the same song ONCE, as he often changes tempo and arrangement toward the end. That said, I can’t help but be churlish by pointing out that songs five, six and seven have very similar chord sequences and melodies, and two of them are about the afterlife. They’re all good songs, but might have worked better with some breathing space.
“Taxes” starts the album off with an a typical jaunty guitar tune featuring nice harmonies and a kazoo-like sound on the choruses. Fun lyrics include: “When I fell in love, I knew it was right / all it took was one drunken night.” A very short song (just 1:42) and something of a novelty track compared to what’s coming.
In “Every Time You Walk By” McCrystal hands over lyric writing and hip-hop singing duties to his good friend Spencer Leibow, who acquits himself quite well in this fast, jittery boogie. McCrystal’s next guest, Stereonet guitarist Ric Stone, shreds away on the title track “Vanilla Moon,"none of the more straight-ahead rockers in the vein of the Steve Miller Band.
“While You Were Gone” showcases McCrystal playing solo piano against a bed of string patches and bird sounds. Here’s where his musical abilities totally shine through, and I would have loved to hear more of this kind of track. A highlight!
“Timeless” is a sweet song about two lovers convinced they have not only met in a past existence, but fully expect to rejoin each other in the afterlife. The voices and instruments are appropriately spacey with nice use of a Magical Mystery Tour-style tack piano.
“This Is Not The Title Of This Song” is the emotional highlight of the collection. McCrystal’s friend, drummer David Nicks, said he was inspired to write lyrics to these chords, but tragically passed away earlier this year. McCrystal never saw what Nicks wrote, so he finished the song by singing about those missing lyrics, and anyone who’s lost a friend will feel his pain and longing. “All I know is how to play my part / wherever you are / I hope you have a guitar / so you can finish writing this song.”
“Answer,” as noted before, shares a very similar chord scheme to the previous two songs, and at first I thought we’d entered another section of "This Is Not The Title.” McCrystal describes this number as being about “…a man of faith reaching the end of his life and wondering whether he made the right choices.” Featuring impressive jazzy guitar and keyboard playing, there’s a great snarky chorus: “And don’t you ever even think about a question / because I sure as hell don’t answer to you.”
“Teach Me A Lesson,” the last traditional song, visits Supertramp territory with a funky keyboard shuffle and talk box middle section. “Ego Birth” means to portray nothing less than the beginning of consciousness with roiling underwater keyboards, ghostly voices and shimmering sounds, which evolves into more of an actual song with rapid drums and indecipherable vocals. A pleasant journey, though I’m not sure to where.
Overall McCrystal has made a satisfying album of superb songs, and I can only imagine that further experimentation will take his work to even greater highs.
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