Wow to the Deadness

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Marbled white violet vinyl $12
When people ask Steve Albini what he’s been listening to, he rarely names an album he’s recorded. But when he sat down with Buddyhead for the fifth installment of Buddyhead Radio in July, he made an exception. “Dan Smith just put together this ad hoc band with a singer named Steve Taylor,” he said. “And they play this really rowdy punk rock. And that record is f—d-up and great. I didn’t expect that kind of music out of them, and I certainly didn’t expect it to be as awesome as it was. I was expecting it to be charming or interesting. It ended up being really raucous and really great.””Really raucous and really great” is the perfect shorthand for Steve Taylor & the Danielson Foil’s Wow to the Deadness, a whipcrack 6-song EP recorded by Albini that applies scalding punk rage to delightfully cockeyed song structures, making for a half-dozen tracks without many clear musical parallels. It’s Magazine covering the Godspell soundtrack or the Buzzcocks trading verses with the Free Design.

The collaboration grew out of a U.S. tour Taylor and his band, the Perfect Foil (Jimmy Abegg, Peter Furler and John Mark Painter), took with Danielson in support of Taylor’s acclaimed 2014 album Goliath. Though both Taylor and Smith had spent most of their careers questioning norms — Taylor through sharp social satire, Smith through dizzyingly inventive songwriting — a musical alliance between the two of them wasn’t exactly a foregone conclusion. But they had such immediate, easy chemistry that they reached out to Albini, with whom both Taylor and Smith had worked before, to set aside studio time when the tour swung through Chicago. The result is the Wow to the Deadness EP that combines both of their sensibilities for a batch of songs full of hairpin musical left turns and sharp, deftly-observed lyrics.

Opener “Wow to the Deadness” is the perfect example of their effortless fusion. Part eerie campfire sing-along, part bruised-up brawler, the song volleys from Taylor’s exhortation to “let it slide to the other side” to Smith’s ecstatic declaration, “We have a winner!” In “A Muse,” Taylor plays another gloryhound clawing for his 15 minutes over acrid, grinding guitars. And “Wait Up Downstep” is a revved-up Boy Scout marching song, Smith alternating between a punchy, mantra-like refrain and beautifully swooping verses. And “Nonchalant” has the same coiled intensity as the National, but feels more wounded, more restless. More than anything, Steve Taylor & the Danielson Foil is the sound of two acts scrapping every rule of songwriting and following their own impulses. Every time you think you’ve got its sound pinned down, it shape-shifts again, transforming into something entirely new — fantastically confounding, and utterly irresistible. Like Albini said: it’s really raucous and really, really great.