Dan, aka Dirtman, coheads a record label called Awkwardcore. The name alone fills me with joy, it makes me think of socially inept people who break glass windows when they can't remember the punchline to a joke. Fossilized! is loosely inspired by Moby Dick (the one with the whale) and is influenced by Guided By Voices and Neutral Milk Hotel.
So basically there were very few ways I was going to dislike this album.
Ukulele and guitar figure heavily into the songs' compositions. One or the other usually kicks off the songs for a spell, a soft chord change or two, before Dan begins reciting lines about being lonely but also happy, or vice-versa. The entire album builds a very youthful atmosphere, courtesy of the springy synthesizers, murky percussion, short song lengths and, of course, the ukulele. Drummer and synthesist Arthur provides mellow musical backing for Dan's ideas, and you never wonder if they're on the same page. The opener "Fossilized!" is a cool little summer pop number complete with vocal harmonies and gentle guitar hooks that plays into the musicians' strengths, that is, brief splashes of ukulele-heavy folk music.
Dan's voice is excellent for this sort of music. His voice is meek but inviting. He doesn't have the most masculine delivery, whatever that is, but a voice deeper or lower would ruin the flow of the songs. It doesn't even sound like he's trying to sing, the music is a shoe and his voice just fits. A song like the XTC-inspired "Leviathan Bird/Vanilla Toad," the longest track at five minutes (an aberration, everything else is sub three minutes) takes me back to the days where the only plan of the day was to cruise on the highway and hope something amazing happens.
That's the biggest draw of the album for me, its pop intrigue. Many of the songs sound like they're going to overflow with noise but never reach the brim. In any other genre, this could spell disaster for a musician, but for an album coming out a label called Awkwardcore, it's perfect. There isn't tension but rather a subtle pull on your heartstrings. The ukulele's bounce along with the tempo changes on "Spirit Spout," is an urgent call to arms for the perpetually frustrated. The album demonstrates a wide variety of mood, though as far as sound goes, the ukulele is the most prominent. Because of this, some moods are harder to convey than others. The melancholy "World Spear" attempts to create via guitar simply doesn't stand up to Dan's uke skills, but it is helped out by prolonged synth hums in the background.
Fossilized! doesn't try to blow you out of the water, but Dan clearly doesn't want to. This is a seasonal album, preferably played during spring or summer. It's cheerful and accommodating and not nearly as awkward as one would think. Why does everyone think a ukulele equates awkwardness? That's musical bigotry. Fight the good fight Dan.
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