From his days as a founding member of powerpop icons, The Posies, to later work with legendary bands like R.E.M. and Big Star, Ken Stringfellow is something of a savant in the world of heartfelt, meticulously crafted pop music. Now located in Paris, Stringfellow benefits from the musical synergy of working as a producer for various European musicians. His latest solo album Danzig in the Moonlight (stream the entire album, here) could be the sweeping aural soundtrack of Van Gogh’s Starry Night Over Rhone or the shrewd musings of an inspired poet in a French cafe.
There is a decidedly retro feel to the album juxtaposed with sounds that are at times downright futuristic. “Odorless, Colorless, Tasteless” is just such a track, opening with Stringfellow’s trance-like vocal delivery and accented by some beautiful violin work before breaking into brooding experimental drum beats. “Shittalkers” is clearly a deeply personal song and displays Pim Kops’ skills on the electric piano as Stringfellow croons “well paranoia is antiquated/I was into you cause’ you were so understudied”.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Danzig in the Moonlight is the surface lightness in composition matched with at times piercingly dark lyrics. This is not to say the production is simple, in fact it’s quite intricate and detailed. Rather, one could listen solely to the instrumentals and find themselves transported to a rocking chair in the Kansas plains before listening to the lyrics and realizing the song is in fact an exploration of the cosmos, the infinite struggle to understand one’s place in the world. This is evident on “Doesn’t it Remind You of Something,” a wonderful country-folk tinged duet with Charity Rose Thielen of The Head and the Heart. The track opens simply enough with an acoustic guitar, but lines like “I cursed your last breath/hell, I begged for your death” and “I doctored those years/with more medicinal tears/the kind that you should’ve known to start prescribing” lend an ominous feel to the beautiful string arrangements in the background.
There is certainly a little bit of everything on Danzig in the Moonlight. “Pray” is a stripped down soul ditty while “Superwise” is a layered electronic adventure complete with maracas and handclaps. “4 am Birds – The End of All Light – The Last Radio” is a broad piano driven track with vocal effects and some great rhythmic drumming. Stringfellow closes out the album on an appropriately inquisitive note with “You’re A Sign,” singing “if I see you’re a sign/will you tell me if you’re mine/cause’ I might not know if I’ll always have your beauty/in my life.”
Stringfellow has crafted a highly ambitious album that highlights not only his arresting vocal talent but also his deft insight and the team of talented collaborators who helped make Danzig in the Moonlight possible. It’s a timeless record cemented both firmly in the past and the future that will grow with repeat listens.
Words: Brian Noonan