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Daniel Romano's 'Modern Pressure' Is The Work Of A Confident Pop Craftsman


This is FRESH AIR. Daniel Romano is a Canadian-based singer-songwriter who's quite prolific. He's released seven albums in seven years, the latest of which is called "Modern Pressure." Rock critic Ken Tucker describes the process he, himself, went through in listening to this album and coming to terms with its attractive but eccentric music.


DANIEL ROMANO: (Singing) We were living at the bottom of an iceberg, baby, of an iceberg. We were slumping with the town, and now I'm finding it's impossible to trust you. Living in an old world...

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: When this album, "Modern Pressure," was released in May, I listened to it a couple of times and then put it aside. It sounded at once quirky, catchy and derivative to me. One of my first thoughts was, I guess Daniel Romano has been thinking a lot about Bob Dylan. Over the next few weeks, I listened to a lot of other music, but the album kept finding its way back into my listening pile. There were certain songs that were immediately arresting, such as Roya.


ROMANO: (Singing) Roya, how I searched the holy vessel for your chamber, how I opened up to any given stranger just to find you standing in some astral plane where there are no shadow. Roya, I am only but the memory of my body. I was searching all directions when you caught me laying breathless as I tried to scream your name anywhere the wind would blow. Roya, my guardian of the soul, and the empty days of old, I think they're over, or I spill oleander from the grove.

TUCKER: I read that Romano had recorded this album primarily in a cabin in Sweden, then went home to his native Ontario, Canada, where he added strings and horns played by others. As I kept repeating my listenings, the all-alone-in-a-cabin concept became vivid in the music. The intensity of many of the songs jibes with the obsessiveness you can feel when you're creating something all alone without any distractions or outside influences. The vocals on a song such as "When I Learned Your Name" have the possessed quality of someone trying to talk himself into a challenge or out of a melancholy mood.


ROMANO: (Singing) When I learned your name, I was ready to hear it. In the grip of your spirit, I was freed of my shame. When I learned your name, every tree took blossom. In the rich glows of autumn, every season the same, yeah. Oh, Maggie Moraggie Lila (ph), I remember when I found you. You were only a girl, so I waited until, Maggie, you grew into you. Maggie, you grew into you.

TUCKER: Some of the best songs on "Modern Pressure" have lyrics that, as I listened while walking around or driving, were difficult to understand. I could make out certain phrases, such as, the name of every landlord is displayed out on the awnings, and the sky was open wide and it was pouring Civil War, phrases that barely seemed to hang together coherently. More often, these struck me as just useful syllables for Romano's voice to fill out and deliver. On the title song, I had no idea what he meant by the couplet, react to it at your leisure, modern pressure. But I sang along to it happily, anyway.


ROMANO: (Singing) The name of every landlord is displayed out on the awnings. And the farmers in their amber fields were harmonized in yawning, as the memory of the ghost hung at the exit. And the city doctor called in feeling head sick. All the freedom-founding fathers altogether speak too soon, the sounds that mutter underneath the glowing, Greek, blue moon as tide rolls up beyond the walking trail. So don't have the native every mocking game (ph). React to it at your leisure, modern pressure.

TUCKER: The album didn't come with lyrics. But when I got hold of a copy of them, they didn't yield much in the way of sentence. Romano is using words the way a poet such as John Ashbery does, as clumps of images and common phrases jammed together in metrical feet. It's at once precise and random, a series of cheerful accidents.

I finally came to the conclusion that the music Romano makes on "Modern Pressure," the guitars, drums and keyboards he plays himself, layered and built into songs, isn't derivative at all. It's the work of a pop craftsman who's confident about sharing finished pieces that sound like works in progress, or rather, as fragments that become complete and whole only when someone else, you or I, listen to them.

DAVIES: Ken Tucker is critic at large for Yahoo TV. He reviewed Daniel Romano's latest album called "Modern Pressure."

On tomorrow's show, tracking and finding the Unabomber. A new scripted series on the Discovery Channel is based on the work of James R. Fitzgerald, an FBI profiler whose careful study of the language in the mail bomber's writing was critical to breaking the case. We'll speak with the real Fitzgerald about one of the biggest serial murder investigations in history. Hope you can join us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ken Tucker reviews rock, country, hip-hop and pop music for Fresh Air. He is a cultural critic who has been the editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, and a film critic for New York Magazine. His work has won two National Magazine Awards and two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards. He has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review and other publications.
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