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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Daniel Clay returns with 'The Ten Thousand Things'

Posted By on Wed, Jun 20, 2012 at 1:34 PM

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When Daniel Clay released his debut album, The Protestant, in the summer of 2008, it was a demanding listen - one that aimed impenetrable songwriting and arrangements at some very personal demons, namely his Evangelical Christian upbringing. For Clay it was clearly an exercise in catharsis, but for the listening world it was a heavy-handed release of both spiritual and intellectual negativity that, although beautiful, required complete and undivided attention for the long haul.

His second album, The Ten Thousand Things, arrived this week, and while it's only slightly less austere than his debut, the new songs are a lot more colorful in their treatment of bold and emotionally raw sounds and imagery.

Whereas much of the previous album's material was recorded in various locations - churches and warehouses spaces, soaking up ambiance by way of aural impressionism - Clay stayed in the studio this time with a handful of players, making the songs up as they went along. The album was recorded by drummer Marlon Patton, and bass player Robby Handley pieced together each of the songs' arrangements. That Salsa bass pattern you hear over a country two-step in the album's title track? That's all by Handley's design, and it's all been in the works since 2009. Many of these songs are tied together by underlying themes of resolve and finality, which can become a bit unsettling at times. And when Clay sings, "Fathers, don't ever tell your sons the truth, that they're destined to become their fathers," in "Prelude," the cards are laid bare.

Still, there are two songs here that linger on the spiritual cramps of the The Protestant: Laced with nods to Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find," the eighth number, "Pitty Sing," rekindles to the old familiar sting of Christian torment. "No More Secondhand God" is a return to form as well, which takes shape as an homage to Buckminster Fuller (the song takes its name from one of Fuller's stories), while emerging as something of an agnostic/humanist anthem. These kinds of literary references encapsulate the album's scope and Clay's writing style with far greater eloquence than a list of like-minded songwriters. However, Clay does keep one musical reference close to his heart: "I have always appreciated David Byrne's lyrics," he says. "The way he can reduce enormous chunks of our culture into a phrase, sometimes doing that by incorporating or recontextualizing clichés and turns of phrases."

As such, The Ten Thousand Things is a complex affair that's not for the faint of heart. Rather, it's an album that builds on dark and simplistic songs of slow, existential discomfort, which make for an alluring, if laborious, combination.

Daniel Clay plays an album release party for The Ten Thousand Things at Elliot Street Pub on Fri., June 29, with Adron.

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