Daniel Smith, devout Christian and art school experimentalist, has made records with a rotating lineup of his family and friends since 1995 under the monikers Danielson Famile, Brother Danielson and Danielson, among others. Best of Gloucester County, Smith's first album in five years, is also the first that he has released on his own label, Sounds Familyre Records. His current lineup retains his wife, Elin, his sisters Megan and Rachel, and longtime collaborator Sufjan Stevens, and ushers in a few newcomers as well. Danielson's lyrics speak of faith and devotion but these are woven in subtly and metaphorically, so that a listener may hear several songs without catching on to it.
The music bends conventions and obeys Smith's idiosyncratic whims, although the experimental departures feel more restrained here than on previous records. Likewise, you'll hear Daniel Smith's voice slide into childlike squeals but to a lesser extent than before. But as is the norm for Danielson, a joyful, celebratory tone strings the songs together.
"This Day is a Loaf" features punctuating chords, a glockenspiel underlying the chorus and a bread metaphor: "This day is a loaf / Of fresh baking bread / Start with the crust / You got big things/ Right, right on ahead."
"But I Don't Wanna Sing About Guitars" follows a loud-quiet-loud dynamic with emphatic bursts of cymbal crashes spaced out by a sharp rhythm over a background of meandering electric guitar effects.
"Hovering Above That Hill" is a meditative mess of jingling, rattling and incomprehensible wailing melted together.
The safer, more controlled approach makes for less groundbreaking unpredictability than previous releases such as Tell Another Joke at the Ol' Choppin' Block, but existing fans of Danielson will feel right at home, and newcomers may want to choose this album as a mild place to test the water.