It’s been a long haul to Daniel Romano’s most recent album, Ancient Shapes. Though it was released on the same day as Mosey in May of this year, there’s very little in common between the two records. With Ancient Shapes, Romano creates an impulsive, self-titled, 70s punk rock dream reminding me why I’ve been a long-standing fan of his evolving work. It is a record that’s made me curious as to how and why Romano has ended up here.
In my kitchen, I play Sleep Beneath the Willow from top to bottom and remember meeting Romano as he manned the merch table at an Attack in Black show in 2010. It was the summer of my first year in university and Years (by One Thousand Fingertips), a folk-rock record, had been out for just over a year. By this time, there was much discussion around Attack in Black disbanding, and I was heartbroken to hear that a band I grew up with would soon no longer exist.
I caught a glimpse of Romano. He was standing in the cubby by the stairs to the washroom. I had been to enough shows at The Horseshoe to know most bands set up their merch table in that spot. I remember feeling a bit nervous approaching him, but I had to introduce myself. At 19, he was someone I admired but I had yet to understand the weight of his creativity and the journey it would take me on. I like to think that, with Attack in Black coming to an end, Romano was teetering on the edge of his future when I walked up and said hello. Our conversation was very brief. Romano was gracious and thanked me for my attendance. He sent me off with his signature toothy smile. As I walked away, I wished I had said something more profound, but that would take me another six years.
Attack and Black disbanded not long after the show, each member going on to do new things. I kept a close eye on Romano. Before I could miss him, he released his first of five LPs, Workin For The Music Man, in June of 2010. Every year or two from then on, Romano released another record, each one unique in its theme and style, while typically incorporating elements of classic country. The evolution in these albums show that Romano is an artist fearless enough to explore his creative impulses right in front of his audience.
Today I listen to Ancient Shapes. This album is the result of creativity well explored. It’s a record that rings out fast and true with the fine-tuned skill of an artist who knows no boundaries. It captures the alternative spirit of Attack in Black and the wisdom of a seasoned musician. It doesn’t sound like country, but it sounds like Romano. Its 10 tracks are over in less than 17 minutes; you barely notice where one song ends and the next begins. Romano’s vocals carry seamlessly from track to track, nuanced with a country crooner’s twang, dressed in 70s punk. Each phrase, part of a larger picture, tells the story of an artist enjoying the impulses of his own creativity. My favourite track is “Hurricane Lady”. In it Romano sings, “How do you choose only one pair of boots?” To get here, you don’t.