Dan Sartain: Dan Sartain Lives!

The Alabama rocker delivers a third album mixing punchy rock 'n' roll spark with a dose of creeping dread.

Dan Sartain

Dan Sartain Lives!

Label: One Little Indian
US Release Date: 2010-05-31
UK Release Date: Import
Label Website

Dan Sartain can’t help but come across as the paranoid type. His features are lean and intense, shaded behind dark glasses and crowned by a jet-black tsunami of a greaser cut. He radiates something both threatening and vulnerable; a strange hybrid of Nicholas Ray's Jim and Plato vibrating across the stage in surf-rock spasms. His musical style, all spaghetti-surf and smooth rockabilly panache cut through with red-stained slashes of fear and loathing, has been honed on 2005's Dan Sartain vs. the Serpientes and the following year's Join Dan Sartain. Whether trying frantically to keep shadowy predators at bay on Join's “Gun vs. Knife” or bitterly reflecting “But when you hold me / All you want to talk about is him” on “Replacement Man”, Sartain sings and plays like a man beset by personal demons, securing just enough comfort from the nearness of his blade and the cathartic twang of his six-string.

As if to reassure us that he's still out there, still vigilant, and still apt to strike with venom if disturbed, the Birmingham, Alabama, rocker has chosen Dan Sartain Lives! for the title of his first album in four years. The album's tone makes it immediately clear that it hasn't been a particularly restful break. Opener “Those Thoughts” finds Sartain in the grip of a downright Hitchcockian terror, as he cries “I don't wanna know who's at my door / Peepin' through my mail slot / I don't wanna think about those thoughts / Even if they're happy or they're not”. It’s a return to the tortured rock n' roll soundscape of Join Dan Sartain, and an initial indication that the man glaring out from behind the oversized chrome mic hasn’t fallen asleep at his post.

Follow-up track “Anything I Say” finds Sartain at his most rock-tinged, anchored by a throaty, rumbling motor of a rhythm section. He plays out a brash call and response with his guitar over the song's quick and dirty run. It's worth mentioning that none of the songs on Dan Sartain Lives! live to see the three-minute mark. Sartain's music hangs on the success of its hooks, and he is wise to keep things succinct and sizzling-hot on the best songs to be found on this record, including “Bohemian Grove”, “Walk Among the Cobras IV”, and the particularly strong “Voo Doo”.

Lives! proves that Sartain certainly hasn't lost his cynical streak or his paranoid view of the world. He’s actually shifted into an even darker style on this record. Its middle section sags under the weight of some slower songs that, while expressing the most detached, distressed, and shadowy fragments of Sartain's psyche, just don't have the kind of eye-opening jolt necessary to carry them through even their short running times. “Bad Things Will Happen” and “Ruby Carol” are the guiltiest in this regard; “Atheist Funeral”, on the other hand, shows off a much better balance between campy haunted house stomp and bluesy fire.

Thankfully, “Voo Doo” kicks the album right back into gear with a satisfying rockabilly flourish. “I Don't Wanna Go to the Party” keeps the late-album energy going, retelling some of the alienated wallflower's lament heard on Join Dan Sartain's “Drama Queens”, but dropping the vicious retorts that peppered its forebear (in which Sartain cackles “When you see your friends tonight / Oh, tell 'em that I died, ha ha!”) in favour of a more pervasive sense of despair.

Dan Sartain Lives! is certainly an album that walks further down the path cut by its predecessors, wielding the rock 'n' roll chops needed to battle a whole host of dreadful portents (none as explicit as the one found in the opening titles of the “Atheist Funeral” video, which spell out “God Said the World’s Coming to an End”) but it's a shame that he hasn't made the gauntlet quite as exhilarating to run this time around.






The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.