Issue #90: Modern Pressure by Daniel Romano
November 6, 2017
Released On May 19, 2017
Released By New West Records
It can be easy for a modern mind to be skeptical when introduced to a new work of art. Dismissing a new creation or idea because one thinks “There’s no way something this bold could be authentic.” The temptation is there to give into, especially when one is struggling so much for self-definition.
That initial skepticism one can feel reminds me of my first encounter with Daniel Romano’s music. Heavily saturated with information, the initial impact of his brute musical force evokes the same triggered emotions associated with “shock value” in pop culture. My first impression of Romano came at a point of great transition in my life. I was caught in a creative rut, desperately searching for the answer to my own musical problems. Listening to his music, I first thought it was another trick of the mind, something being sold to me as “edgy” or “vintage.” Upon further listening, one finds the opposite to be true — that in spite of the weight of consumerism in the music industry, art is still alive within the pens and personas of trailblazing troubadours. Though his art is very image-centric, Daniel Romano doesn’t just appear cool, he is cool because he is the complete package. He’s a visionary writer, musician, and visual artist. I connected these dots a year ago when I listened to his 2016 record Mosey, and there was one song in particular that resonated most with me: “I Had To Hide Your Poem In A Song.” In many ways, I believe that that song is the essence of Romano’s work: Poetry encrypted within the architecture of three minute rock n’ roll songs.
Modern Pressure, Romano’s next record following the double release of Mosey and Ancient Shapes, is the natural progression of an already prolific writer. Just when audiences thought the last creation must have been the best a person could ever achieve in their life, Romano continues to prove them wrong. The album is rich with active, thoughtful language, each song riddled with deep metaphors and powerful imagery. The instrumentation and orchestration is a nod to his personal style with sweeping strings and stereo production that serve as a window into life from decades ago. These bygones are even physically manifested in the live performance of the record, where Romano and his band have been recently seen suited in the style of mid-century modern artists before them. The dedication to the world of the album is admirable, giving spectators the same feeling as watching an actor beautifully play a role.
Like a show produced by skilled writers and performers, Modern Pressure gracefully dances through disheartening subject matter. The overall recurring theme seems to be a sort of exposé on the old world, showing the many ways in which it’s caving in on itself. The concept of “the old world” appears to allude to topics ranging from vanity and transactional relationships to the triviality of social customs in the presence of more foundational issues. The innuendo referring to the dying old world is spread across the record, sometimes forwardly spelled out in song title (“Sucking The Old World Dry“) and sometimes cleverly crafted into a singular phrase as in this excerpt from “Roya:” “The empty days of Old / I think they’re over / For I smell oleander / from the grove.” The rawness of the writing and thematic contents leaves my head spinning from all that I understand and all that I still don’t.
I love and trust this record the way I trusted the works of my heroes as a young aspiring musician. After all the time I’d spent listening to his music trying to decode lyrics, I couldn’t help but feel giddy when I met Romano this past summer. It amazes me that such a mature work was made just this past year by someone with still so much to say. Though I don’t understand every line of poetry yet, I gladly await the day that I can decipher them with a clearer lens. Until then, I look forward remaining a fan.
Angelica Garcia (@angelicagarcia)
Fervent & Vigorous Eclectic Trouveur
A prolific and cunning musician with a boundless and nomadic spirit.
Daniel Romano’s Modern Pressure is one of those albums that gives me trouble describing accurately. I know that listening to it that I enjoy it. I know that it reminds me of other artists and albums I’ve listened to before. But if pressed to ask what, specifically, it is that I like about the album; what it is that it reminds me of; what makes it so easy to lose track of time while listening to the songs on repeat; I’m at a loss for words. I could easily make lazy, albeit slightly accurate, comparisons to Dylan or select Ryan Adams albums, but I don’t think that’s really what draws me into Modern Pressure. I think the appeal lays in the fact that it’s familiar, but not overly familiar. According to the quick Google search that I did on Romano after my first listen through this album, he’s put out eight albums in just as many years — which is an impressive feat even if they aren’t all winners — some of my favorite artists take that long, if not longer, between two albums. I won’t pretend that I’ve listened to any of his work outside of Modern Pressure as of this writing, so I can’t actually tell you whether or not I think there are any stinkers in his discography, but based on listening to this collection of songs I feel confident in saying that Daniel Romano is one of those artists who understands that the wheel doesn’t always need to be reinvented as long as the wheel is made well. Sure, innovation can be cool, but at the end of the day the most comforting things are what we’re already familiar with and Modern Pressure is just that to me: a new take on a familiar feeling.
Dustin Gates (@cmoncheermeup)
Relapsed Pop Culture Junkie
Marigold and vermillion leaves dotted along the gray-green James today, an overcast sky proving the best backdrop for early fall. Keeping busy with errands, I stopped at the river, overcome with a little ribbon of sadness without purpose. These days, when my husband is working almost every night and I work just about every day, my time off can feel a bit burdensome. Today, going on two weeks without a day off in common, I moved silently through a thrift store, bought groceries for dinners I’ll heat up for him, and was silent, taking in the chill of the air, the bustle of others, with Modern Pressure in my headphones. Though not, by any means, an overtly sad album, there’s a quality held in the reedy British Invasion voice of Romano, a yearning for something nameless in this Wes Anderson album that demands dedicated listening. A childhood romance, a longing to go back to a hometown where no one would recognize your decades-older face, blossoms out of this album. With an easy rock sound reminiscent of the ’70s, even with little infusions of country and that rambling hip-folk of the 2000s, this is an album to play alongside your silent longing, one to listen to the day after you end a relationship you saw crumbling months ago or for when you miss people you saw just a few hours earlier.
Laura Burroughs (@_thetwors)
Jestful Musical Erudite
While “finding your voice” is something we demand of newer artists, I find myself having something of an opposite reaction to Modern Pressure. While he never sounds exactly like anyone else, it’s when he channels avatars of folk-rock the closest that I find Daniel Romano the most satisfying. So, songs like “Roya,” which rocks a comfortable groove very much on Dylan’s planetary wavelength, or “The Pride Of Queens,” on which Romano impersonates Al Kooper on organ with captivating results, are instant hits. It’s not that Romano is slavish, it’s just his deep understanding of what made songs by his heroes tick expands our idea of what can be done with some of those old tropes. The fact that each song ends with a coda of psychedelic collage may indicate a desire to push off from familiar shores, or just a need to dazzle us with his studio acumen. Either way, it works, big time! Lyrically, he also dishes out a few real gems, as on the title track, when he tosses off the brilliant, “The sky was open wide / and it was pouring civil war,” which might have made old Bobby’s ears prick up a little. When he steps up the tempo and pushes his voice into its upper range, he sounds a bit fish out of water, but there were few such misfires. Romano has been around for a while, honing his craft as a singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer, since at least 2007, when he was in a hardcore band called Attack In Black. All of that effort is really paying off beautifully on Modern Pressure‘s best moments. I’m keeping an ear out for even greater things from Romano in the future!
Jeremy Shatan (@anearful)
Prescient & Appreciative Musical Omnivore
Effortlessly embodying the yesteryear appeal of his music.
Hats off to whoever produced this record. Production is often about choices, and one seemingly inconsequential choice can completely change the sound of a record. Lucky for Daniel Romano, all the right choices were made. I’ve addressed this before on OYR, but it’s incredibly difficult to achieve this level of retro sound in 2017. Modern Pressure sounds and feels like it was released in 1967, and that’s the product of a series of choices. It’s the way the drums are mic’d. It’s the Lennon-esque reverb on the vocals throughout the record. My favorite engineering choice would have to be the reversed, yet still in tune/melody, guitar solo on “What’s To Become Of The Meaning Of Love.” I’ve been making music for quite a while, and quite frankly, I have no idea how they did that. I love that this record has interludes! Little songs in between songs — such an underutilized tool, in all genres, to make your album stand out from the pack. Modern Pressure is a great example of an artist committing to a sound, and carrying out that vision to achieve a truly enviable aesthetic.
Kellen “J. Clyde” Ford (@jclyde757)
Steadfast Hip-Hop Historian & Creator
Each year, when I go to the Hopscotch Music Festival in Raleigh, I create a Google spreadsheet that I share with my friends who are also attending. I listen to the music of every artist that is performing, write a brief description, and rate my likelihood of attending the show. In 2015, Daniel Romano played, and after listening to his then-recent record If I’ve Only One Time Askin’, I wrote “classic country, very Willie Nelson” and gave it 3.5/5 stars. I didn’t see him that year and I never listened to him again, as I haven’t been in the mood for “classic country” the last few years. He’s released a few more records since then, and surprisingly, each one is different from the last. This year’s Modern Pressure combines seemingly all of his loves — power pop, glam rock, indie rock, country — with really excellent songwriting that highlights his delightful nasal vocals. He transitions throughout the album on the songs’ lyric styles, as well as musical influences. For example, the glam-y “Modern Pressure,” contains the kind of place and atmosphere descriptions that give me the chills: “The name of every landlord is displayed out on the awning / And the farmers in the amber fields were harmonized in yawning.” “Roya” is more of a country ballad that reminds me of Hiss Golden Messenger (minus that sitar solo at the end!), but the lyrics are instead spiritual, “Roya / I am only but the memory of my body / I was searching all directions when you caught me.” Romano also does something interesting in this song, where he drags the tempo down ever so slightly in the middle of the chorus, before pumping it up again during the last line. It’s just one example of his masterful songwriting technique. I don’t get to say this much because we usually cover older records, but Modern Pressure is certainly one of my favorite records this year and I have really enjoyed going back to Romano’s other releases and picking up on all of the touches he adds to his compositions and the way he changes his voice to suit his chosen style at the time.
Melissa Koch (@bunnycaper)
Mediocre Runner, Aspiring Celebrity DJ
One thing that writing for OYR has done for me is sharpen my ability to hone in on what exactly draws me into a record from the start, which only took thirty seconds into “Ugly Human Heart Pt. 1” here. Something about a musician proudly displaying their influences while also keeping you guessing about where they’re going to go next really calls to me. It’s what drew me to the band fun. in a different sense and it’s what draws me to Daniel Romano. He is clearly a fan of ’60s and ’70s radio rock, but he’s so deep in the Matrix that he doesn’t even see them as influences anymore. They’re more colors for him to paint with, and the resulting masterpiece is so deep and rich that I can’t stop listening to it. It’s just so cool! Don’t miss this album. Every track is a gem and if you’re like me, you won’t be able to pick a favorite.
James Anderson (@unabashedjames)
Devoted Docent Of Musical Concepts
It’s impossible to predict what’s going to stick with you about an album, and sometimes what sticks with you isn’t even one of the sounds you hear after pressing play. Do you know what’s stuck with me after listening to Modern Pressure a bunch and reading about Daniel Romano this week? Two words: “leather craftsman.” That may seem random, but Romano’s Wikipedia page notes that he’s skilled at working with leather, and that he’s done design work for a number of other artists, including two of my favorites: M. Ward and the topic of OYR Issue #47, Ben Kweller. (I’m dying to know if he did the art for Kweller’s Changing Horses. Seems right up the alley of someone who works with leather.) Knowing Romano’s talents range so widely changed how I listened to Modern Pressure, and that was before I knew that much of the album was done one-man-band-style, a la Emitt Rhodes. How talented can one person be? That background knowledge elevates the album generally, but it especially complements the big moments — like the build, stop, and tension release in the title track‘s chorus, which you could imagine an arena rock act unleashing in front of a throng of thousands. Same deal with “When I Learned Your Name,” which has an opening guitar riff that Ronnie Wood might have written for a Rolling Stones and/or Faces tune before sending it through a stadium’s sound system. Modern Pressure has great small moments too, not to mention variety, flow, and memorable melody after memorable melody. Oh yeah, and the guy who recorded it can make you a guitar strap. Incredible.
Davy Jones (@youhearthat)
Idealistic Seeker Of Neoteric Sounds
More than any of his other records, Modern Pressure beautifully bears the weight of Romano’s sprawling mind in dazzling fashion.
Modern, as the lone adjectival add-on to the title of Daniel Romano’s Modern Pressure, released earlier this spring, feels like an odd choice at certain times. Other times, it feels just right. Where does this simultaneous assertion come from? Well, for one, the tags Romano opted to use for Modern Pressure‘s page on Bandcamp includes “exotica.” The tags also include the likes of more recognizable fare like “Americana” and “rock,” though remembering that rock can mean everything from Cream to Queens Of The Stone Age, Romano’s 2017 take is much more liable to fall within orbit of the former over the latter. The Americana, folk rock flavor feels particularly prominent throughout this 12 track work; what with the note bending power of steel guitar ebbing and flowing from song to song and Modern Pressure generally moving with a lively but not anxious pace that could connect nicely with many hits by Creedence Clearwater Revival. In fact, add to this the very 1960s-’70s color palate adorning the artwork and the mildly lo-fi recording approach on some tracks (“Sucking The Old World Dry,” “Roya“), and it’s hard not to see a good portion of this album finding a musical crowd from CCR’s time with which to connect. The melodies occasionally have that laid back, carefree notion about them and the presence of acoustic guitar (is that a 12-string I hear on “Jennifer Castle?”), organ (“The Pride Of Queens“), and sitar (“I Tried To Hold The World (In My Mouth)“), feels right out of, if not very close by, the playbook of many multi-genre artists from that era: the Beatles, Joe South (there’s a notably similar vibe between Modern Pressure and South’s famed album, Games People Play, featured back as Issue 53), or Crosby, Stills, and Nash, among others. I’ll give Romano that what I read and was presented with matched up perfectly once Modern Pressure got underway. The main takeaway past that though, is to realize there’s going to be a lot that feels like it shouldn’t fit together but somehow, it all just works.
Kira Grunenberg (@shadowmelody1)
Prolific Sonic Scribe & Unifier
This one had me tapping my foot from the second I hit play, and it’s nice to have music that will bring a little sunshine when it’s grey and rainy outside. I absolutely love the use of the horns throughout the album, specifically on the title track. Beatle-esque in a way. Another nod to the Beatles is found in the Sitar used in “Roya,” that gave the song a great ending twist. The influence of older music decades is pretty strong here, and much appreciated by me. It shocked me a little that he is a Canadian artist, since he has a twang that to me sounds much more akin to British artists, but maybe that is what I am just used to listening to. As a massive Beatles fan, I love the sound of this album because it shows that the timeless influence is still relevant in 2017. I had never heard of Daniel Romano before, but it is safe to say that this album is now on my saved list. I could probably write about 100 words per song on how catchy they are and how great the variety of song length and tempos is, but I’ll just say that I was pleasantly surprised by how much I truly enjoyed this album, so much so that one track doesn’t even stand out above the rest.
Chelsea Kostrey (@chelseakostrey)
Retrophile & Festival Enthusiast
I watch a lot of news talk shows these days. Not only does it help me process my internal rage over current events, but it also helps pass the time while doing a mindless spreadsheet or holding a sleeping baby before its time for the crib. The problem with this though is that most news shows these days don’t really prompt your own line of thinking. You don’t come to your own conclusion after each episode or segment — it’s already there for you. Whether it’s Rachel Maddow or Seth Meyers, the dots have been connected and are presented in a “how it really is” argument that you either accept or reject. Great art is never like that, especially music in the vein of Modern Pressure. With familiar yet nameless sounds and conversant yet poetic words, it’s a record full of interpretation that will dutifully follow wherever your mind travels. Hone in on the yesteryear sounds and it will evoke Lennon (“When I Learned Your Name“) and Dylan (“Sucking The Old World Dry“). Hone in on the anapestic flow and you’ll sense lush gardens (“Roya“) and hollow cities (“Modern Pressure“). Hone in on the sonic diversity and you’ll be gifted backtracking codas (“The Pride Of Queens“) and rattlesnake layers (“What’s To Become Of The Meaning Of Love“). Each route leads to a rewarding journey through the record with little hints here and there to look out for in between the giant guideposts that will astonish your ears and mind. There is no commitment to any given route too, with each one intertwining enough to give you ample time to switch lanes, either because your mood shifted or you caught something you previously missed. Modern Pressure‘s remarkable songs are more than enough to support all these boundless routes, but what’s most impressive is that the record still has its own concrete sonic identity, one that each route, no matter how contrarian, most pass through and circle in its travels. It leaves you with all the dots in the world to connect, though you just have to remember whose world you’re in — one that belongs to an exceptionally talented musician named Daniel Romano.
Doug Nunnally (@musicdoug)
Garrulous Aural Braggart
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