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Ken Stringfellow

Danzig in the Moonlight

(Spark and Shine; US: 2 Oct 2012; UK: 1 Oct 2012)

One of the things I wonder most – and what I consider an obligatory interview question for those concerned – is how an artist who simultaneously fronts a band and maintains a solo project determines which songs are used for which vehicle. Sometimes, the distinction is obvious – the Postal Service, for example, sounds radically unlike Death Cab for Cutie, and it’s safe to assume that those compositions simply necessitated the conception of an additional project. The same can be said about a venture like the Foxboro Hot Tubs, a stellar but short-lived Nuggets-y garage revival band that featured the members of Green Day letting their hair down under a separate guise. But often, it’s indiscernible – are Robert Pollard and Conor Oberst’s numerous, secondary projects really necessary? What prevented Evan Dando from releasing his sole solo LP Baby I’m Bored under the Lemonheads name?


Ultimately, Ken Stringfellow – best known for having been a part-time member of R.E.M. and one of two principal songwriters in powerpop luminaries the Posies, along with Jon Auer – falls squarely into the latter category with his fourth solo record, Danzig In The Moonlight. And while the majority of the record might be “mellower” than most of the Posies canon, that’s the only real distinction, and it’s a facile one. On Danzig in the Moonlight Stringfellow seldom steps outside of the pure pop boundaries he’s known to intransigently work within as both a solo artist and as a member of his band, and that makes for a relatively predictable listen. Yet when Stringfellow does branch out stylistically, it doesn’t really work out, either – the brass-driven arrangements on songs like “Pray” and “Drop Your Pride” for example feel contrived at best and self-important at worst, but most importantly are awkward as the backdrop to Stringfellow’s sprightly pop songs. The record’s largest flaw, however, and one shared by the Posies’ 2010 effort Blood/Candy, resides in its obscene length and relative mediocrity – 14 tracks long and clocking in at approximately 54 minutes, Danzig in the Moonlight is an inordinately, and inappropriately, long pop/rock record. These transgressions might be less offensive if there were simply less of them.


And while there is, inevitably, heaps of fluff, Stringfellow manages to occasionally astound: the bones of “You’re the Gold” are as good as anything included on a Posies record, but is unfortunately marred by a meretricious arrangement. “Shitttalkers” showcases Stringfellow’s oft-neglected talent as a dynamic vocalist, and is also one of the highlights. Unfortunately for every one of these standout tracks, there’s a song like"110 Or 220 V” which slouches along and suggests a thrilling climax but never actually reaches one, or “Savior’s Hands” whose presumably stream-of-consciousness opening line “My attempts to liberate / The symbionese from your head” isn’t interesting or evocative but merely stupid. The ratio is 1:1.


All in all, Danzig in the Moonlight is a startlingly average record. Its length and Stringfellow’s pre-release comments on the album regarding the gestation period between solo efforts (he’s allegedly been “contemplating this record for the last eight years”) contradicts the apparent lack of effort he put into these compositions (or perhaps it’s just a lack of self-awareness). The results get worse the further Stringfellow strays from the effervescent powerpop that brought him to the spotlight with the Posies. Once in awhile on Danzig in the Moonlight Stringfellow will hit it out of the park, but not often enough to overturn his low batting average.

Rating:

Morgan Troper is a freelance writer currently living in PDX, Oregon.


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Ken Stringfellow is a well-known figure in the world of smart pop music, having worked with the likes of the Posies, R.E.M., the Minus 5, and Big Star. These days he's playing with the Disciplines and their new album Smoking Kills released just last week.
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