Sometimes it’s not totally apparent to fans of music how much artists pour their hearts into their recordings. Oftentimes, a listener will dismiss with a simple press of a SCAN button what took months of introspection, hand-wringing, pacing, and sweat. Why does this happen? Somehow, the agony of the pouring out of one’s soul into the art simply does not come across in a few minutes of sounds emanating from one’s speakers. However, once in a while, the listener stumbles across a recording that vividly captures the emotion an artist puts into a recording. With its heartbreaking narrative, lyrical catharsis, manic-depressive shifts in musical mood, and wrenchingly emotional vocal performances, Angles by North Carolinian songwriter David Karsten Daniels is one of those CD’s. Sounding something like a man perilously close to losing his mind, David Karsten Daniels songs about the agony and bewilderment that comes as one slowly realizes that they’ve lost the love of their life. Angels is a graphic encounter of heartache and grief that will draw the listener in and make them weep along with Daniels.
Sonically, Angles sounds something like a cross between Pedro The Lion, Radiohead and The Castanets, only rawer, more animated. The music can be referenced vaguely as singer/songwriter, as a number of Daniels’ songs utilize his plaintive voice and thoughtful guitar strumming. However, infused throughout the whole of Angles are references to Americana, folk, pop, ambient, and Daniels somehow even adds a hint of electronica on a couple of songs. “Goodbye” immediately introduces the listener to the tragic narrative of Angles (in which a couple in love is forced to separate due to diverging life paths). Capturing perfectly the emotions running through the head of the couple as they separate, Daniels sings, “You tried to put us at ease, gave instructions and kissed me to numb the hurt…‘see you later’ you corrected, tried to put it in perspective, just to hide what it was…goodbye”. Sung over a mournful electronic beat, minimalist keyboards, and building to a cathartic wall of emotion in which Daniels insanely screams in the background of the music, “Goodbye” is masterful and powerful. The quick, 1 minute, “Note To Self” follows, sounding almost like a stripped-down Half-Handed Cloud with its quirky fun melody, clean vocals, and variety of sounds and instruments. “I’ll Just Play Guitar” is mostly just that…Daniels delicately strumming an acoustic guitar while lamenting about his situation, while very subtle key sounds add depth to the sound. Another short track, “Holding Pattern” is just under 2 minutes worth of ambient sounds that are soothing. “Marriage Proposal” is one of the more fully developed songs, yet starts out very stripped down and quietly. The guitar work and lazy drums give this song a southern dark-folk feel, while retaining its musical freshness with Daniels’ vocal harmonies. The anguish of this song is that Daniels is writing a song of total devotion to a lady (even naming her by her first name) that cannot return his love. “Scribble Your Name Down in the Dark” beings with eerie samples of female voices, then turns on its head to become an under-produced rock jam (sounding like a male-sung b-side off of PJ Harvey’s Uh Huh Her). The song just gets going with a dirty guitar lead when it abruptly ends, giving way to “How Turn to Stone”, a slow folk song that builds to a cacophony of out of tune acoustic guitars and busy drums. “To Tire” is another masterful track, as Daniels sings after a minute or so of odd samples “I’m tired of you wrecking of my life”. The music is dissonantly beautiful, as strange sounds underlie Daniels’ frustrated vocals. “Alcohol” is a classic rock/folk jam, featuring soulful layered vocals, electric guitars, a languid and patient pace that ebbs and flows along with the emtions of the song, and ends in a haze of guitar feedback. “Siamese Hearts” is a simple song, combining folk elements with sugary pop hooks, in which Daniels longs to be reunited with his long lost love. Angles ends with the curious “Give Up…And You Are Changed”, in which he finally resigns his love and casts himself to an uncertain future. Starting as an uncomplicated folk song, “Give Up…And You Are Changed” slowly builds to, of all things, an electronic-beat driven refrain of “you are changed” sung in harmonies with female vocals that reminds me of the kind of music one would hear from Sufjan Stevens (minus the drumbeats). Finally, some time after “Give Up…And You Are Changed” ends, an untitled extra track featuring Daniels, his acoustic guitar, and field recording background sounds comes on. On it, Daniels transparently sings of the fact that his loss of love is still prevalent on his mind and heart, but that the pain eventually fades away. It’s a contemplative and touching end to this see-through account of heart break.
Despite what one may think of the eccentricities found in the music of Angles, no one can question that Daniels empties his heart and bears his soul on this release. And, that he does so in such a compelling music style, with strong songs, a grand sense of experimentalism, and is still able to perfectly convey the sense of chaos and dread that surrounds grief is noteworthy. In fact, due to the explicit portrayal of strong emotions found on Angles, the CD can be a hard listen at times, as the listener is swept up in the pain that Daniels projects. But ultimately, Angles concludes on a positive note, and though the singer (and listener) move on feeling a little scarred, there is a conveying of hope for the future. For this, Angles is a very worthy listen for the broken-hearted, grief-stricken, or adventurous music listener looking for something a little different challenging in their music collection.