If you think you’re an overachiever, think again – Daniel Romano’s got us all beat. So far this year, Romano has released nine full-length albums, a pace that would even make Ty Segall’s head spin. His latest, How Ill Thy World Is Ordered, is his first one released in a physical format since the live album OKAY WOW way back in March, and it’s also noteworthy for its musical sprawl. While most of his releases this year have wrestled with specific genres – punk, prog, power-pop – this one tends to put a whole host of different styles into a blender, resulting in a baffling, often dizzying, but never dull collection.
Credited to Daniel Romano’s Outfit, How Ill Thy World Is Ordered bounces around different genres but never seems gimmicky. Each particular style seems to be approached and considered meticulously. Fussy? Perhaps. But to witness an artist cranking out roughly an album a month and none of it seeming tossed off is a rare thing. “A Rat Without a Tale” kicks off the album with psychedelic pop touches, kitchen-sink production, David Nardi’s heavily distorted guitar soloing, and the soaring, gospel-tinged backing vocals of Julianna Riolino and Briana Salmena. Opening tracks always work effectively when they make a strong musical statement – this one busts down the doors.
While How Ill Thy World Is Ordered often delves into rock’s more baroque corners, the brief “Green-Eye Shade” sees Romano melding power-pop with vintage Springsteen, right down to Victor Belcastro’s powerful saxophone channeling Clarence Clemons. As with any album that plays with past genres, the album can often sound like someone fiddling with an FM dial in a ’70s Chevy sedan. “First Yoke” has the power of Quadrophenia-era Who (thanks to Ian Romano’s muscular drumming) but the compositional sophistication and hooks of Big Star. Horns are thrown in, but instead of conjuring soul, the heavy use of trumpets instead gives them a majestic feel.
But it’s not empty nostalgia by any means. Romano’s songwriting is razor-sharp, nodding to past influences but assuredly forging his own path. “Joys Too Often Hollow”, which ends the vinyl edition’s first side but resumes in its second part on side two, revels in the tuneful sounds of Americana. But it’s unique enough to not come across as cribbed or derivative of other artists. “Drugged Vinegar” would come off as merely a curious bit of psychedelic folk in lesser hands. Still, Romano expertly weaves in interesting touches like a chorus-lifting horn section (this time with plenty of soul) and a playful, spacey synth solo. Many of the album’s more fascinating musical moments occur when Romano makes less-traveled choices, resulting in songs that may sound like something you’ve heard before, but never in these particular configurations.
Elsewhere, Romano gets into full-blown anthem mode with the hopeful, larger-than-life “No More Disheartened by the Dawn”, singing with rugged determination. “No more disheartened by the dawn / No more a sorrow will I see / No more shall time go trembling on / No more will I sing misery.” The band provide plenty of musical heft, with the thick instrumentation (including a wild, weird, atonal organ solo) buttressing the positivity and preventing it from becoming treacly or maudlin.
On the closing track, “Amaretto and Coke”, Romano and his Outfit say goodbye with a gentle lullaby, a boozy, carefree ode to a sweet yet potent drink. “Amaretto and coke / O! what your spirit can evoke / What wild a couple to combine / There’s none more redolent than thine.” It’s a fitting end to a highly enjoyable album that provides both the buzz of nostalgia and the genius of an artist whose creativity still packs a heavy punch.