While you could be forgiven for not knowing the name, Daniel Knox has been a cherished part of various alternative music scenes for well over a decade now. Having collaborated with David Lynch, Rufus Wainwright and Jarvis Cocker to name but three, while still maintaining a job as a film projectionist in Chicago’s historic Music Box theatre, he is a singular and fascinating figure. A self-taught pianist - whose skills were learnt via nocturnal visits to the traditional furniture of his city’s hotel lobbies - the lyrical and filmic nature of his playing betrays his relentless exposure to celluloid tales.
A striking self-titled third album released in 2015 caught the attention of those with discerning ears, but a December release risks lessening the impact of the no less remarkable ‘Chasescene’ amongst the festive bonhomie and list-driven ennui. This record should make an impact though. Opening instrumental ‘Katurahwaltz’ is a brief but evocative curtain call for a record that clambers out of the speakers with quiet confidence.
The middle of the album is especially notable for ‘Capitol’, on which Jarvis Cocker returns the favour for Knox’s vocal contributions to his 2009 solo record ‘Further Complications’. As well as serving as a torturous reminder that one of our finest living vocalists is currently missing in action, it pulls this music out of its wilfully, wonderfully obtuse context and makes connections with more familiar territory.
The Pulp frontman is at his lugubrious best here, while Nina Nastasia takes similarly commanding centre stage on ‘The Prisoner’, a track evolved from Knox’s soundtrack to a 2014 film of the same name by fellow Chicagoan, Chris Hefner. Hers is an even more commanding guest performance and testimony to the high regard in which the song’s writer is held amongst fellow musicians.
‘Leftovers’ is a country-tinged meander within which the lyric, “I’m getting tired of this musicless dance, why don’t you put your hand down my pants?” unexpectedly resides. There’s an acerbity to plenty of Knox’s lyrics which - when coupled with his playful baritone - has provoked a plethora of John Grant comparisons. However, the sparse nature of this music and the avoidance of novelty ensure plenty of distance between their respective 2018 releases.
Whether performing the fabulously jaunty ‘Man Is An Animal’ or the vituperative anger of the title track, Knox is a truly compelling presence. Final track ‘Me And My Wife’ is a dark narrative played straight and with a swelling conclusion that deposits ‘Chasescene’ on a locked groove. The sense that its melancholic world is hard to escape, should you wish to, is reinforced as those final notes stand firm until the needle leaves the record. It’s a fittingly analogue touch from an artist who finds such inspiration in the past.
Words: Gareth James
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