For an artist only in his early thirties, Daniel Romano’s recorded output is impressively prolific. No album is the same and each is brilliant in its own unique way. Whether you’re a fan of Romano’s work with Attack in Black, his journey down country music’s dusty trail, or his recent embrace of punked-up psychedelia and 1960s songwriting, this collection will serve as a jumping-off point for his ever- expanding musical library.
Longtime followers of Romano will notice some seemingly glaring omissions, and they would be correct. However, what was left off the list has more to do with the sheer amount of music Romano has had a hand in creating than it does with the artistic merit of projects like Daniel, Fred and Julie and Ancient Shapes. And at the end of the day, this is a completely subjective endeavour. For the uninitiated, I hope this serves as a primer on Daniel Romano’s career thus far. For those who have already been converted, I’m curious to see what you think I’ve missed.
1. “Workin’ For the Music Man”from Workin’ For the Music Man, 2010 Why it’s Essential: The title track off of Romano’s first solo album serves as a thesis statement for his existence as a solo artist. He has attempted to operate outside of the conventional music industry and has successfully built his reputation through merit and ceaselessly strong output. Gateway to… Romano’s funny, satirical, and pointed lyrics and his categorical disdain for the music industry. Key Moment: “And I still don’t even have a cent…”; The piano slide after each chorus. RIYL: Key changes; former punks finger pickin’ folk tunes.
2. “The Love Between You and I” from Widows EP (Attack in Black), 2006 Why it’s Essential: One of two songs from Attack in Black’s Widows EP that eventually made it onto their debut album Marriage, only this version is the essential one. This song is the perfect jumping-off point for both Attack in Black’s louder material and their eventual foray into the softer sounds on Years (By One Thousand Fingertips). Gateway to… OG Attack in Black. Key Moment: The chorus; “neath the cities (neath the cities)”. RIYL: Constantines; mid-00s Southern Ontario-core.
3. “Valerie Leon”from Mosey, 2016 Why it’s Essential: The lead-off tune from the revelatory Mosey was our first taste of Romano moving through his country period into his current early rock motif. The rapid fire drums and the psychedelic spaghetti of the verses mixed with the cinematic theme-song like chorus marked the start of the most exciting phase in Romano’s musical career to date. Gateway to… Romano’s current anything goes sound; the painful, cinematic shuffle of Mosey. Key Moment: When the narrative shifts with the lyrics “And we’re the couple of the year/I gotta get me outta here”, the anxiety embedded within the tune really shows itself. RIYL: Funny, anxious love songs; horns; old television theme songs.
4. “Modern Pressure”from Modern Pressure, 2017 Why it’s Essential: Perhaps Romano’s greatest achievement yet. Imagine a band that featured The Beatles’ rhythm section, Dylan taking care of lyrics and vocals, and Robbie Robertson on guitar, but they all had punk rock sensibilities. Oh, and imagine they were all just one person… you’d end up with this song. Gateway to… The shadow of Dylan that Romano has glued to his shoes. Key Moment: “Take the seeds my holy thresher (snare! snare!) Modern pressure”. RIYL: Music that lives up to the promise of the 1960s; The Beatles, The Band, and Bob Dylan.
5. “If I’ve Only One Time Askin’”from If I’ve Only One Time Askin’, 2015 Why it’s Essential: This song would be worth listening to if it was only just the bass track, but Romano builds a heartbreaking and perfectly crafted tune that serves as the centrepiece of his 2015 album IfI’ve Only One Time Askin’; it’s the culmination of half a decade of country songwriting. Gateway to… Romano’s ascent to his mastery of the country music formula. Key Moment: Can you hear the bass? Holy fuck. RIYL: Killer bass lines; tear-in-your-root beer country; again with those key changes.
6. “Hunger is a Dream You Die In”from Mosey, 2016 Why it’s essential: This tune is the perfect synthesis between Romano’s country period and his current sound. Lyrically, it’s one of his strongest to date. It’s a screed against the music industry that is both more pointed and less on the nose than previous Romano songs on the subject. Gateway to… The truth; altruistic antipathy; modern Romano. Key Moment: “I’ve been hungry all my life and nothing feeds my appetite/Hunger is a dream you die in/When the best of it comes true there’s always more I need from you/Hunger is a dream you die in”. Shout out to Mark Lalama’s piano on this tune…Romano may be self-sufficient but he also surrounds himself with extremely talented session players. RIYL: Musical manifestos; pretty songs to soothe your anger.
7. “If All I Thought Were True”from Marriage (Attack in Black), 2007 Why it’s Essential: As time rolls on, “If All I Thought Were True” will likely be remembered as Attack In Black’s best song. No, it’s not punk per se, but it’s a powerful ballad, perfectly arranged, and beautifully sung by Romano. It also may be one of the best indicators of what Attack in Black would morph into after Marriage. I get chills every time I listen to this song. Gateway to… Late period Attack in Black and the members’ respective solo careers; Romano’s heartbreak ballads. Key Moment: The first pre-chorus (those backing vocals!) into the chorus (those horns!). Gets me every time. RIYL: Frisson; crying; beauty; pre-twang Dan ballads.
8. “Paul and Jon”from Sleep Beneath the Willow, 2011 Why it’s Essential: It’s hard to choose the most essential track from Sleep Beneath the Willow, but “Paul and Jon” is my go to. It’s a singalong send off, full of melancholy, regret, and a swig of hope for the future. Gateway to… Romano’s sad side; Sleep Beneath the Willow, Come Cry With Me. Key Moment: All of the fiddle. RIYL: Authentic country pastiche; tear-in-your-real-beer country.
9. “Pride of Queens”from Modern Pressure, 2017, Why it’s Essential: Based on his music, it’s not hard to tell that Romano is a student of music history. This song name drops plenty of musical heroes and features fairly subtle jabs at Bono and his band for implanting themselves in the stories of other musical heroes. Beyond the subject matter, this is one of the most “punk” jams Romano has released since Attack in Black disbanded and it proves he still has supreme post-hardcore sensibilities. Gateway to… Shit-talking Bono; Ancient Shapes; the steeped-in-rock-history of Modern Pressure. Key Moment: The bridge is one of the most satisfying payoffs in Romano’s discography: “At the end of your century what have you done? As the dead in your history rattle and hum.” RIYL: The Band on punk; Attack in Black; lyrical references to rock n roll ghosts; hating U2.
10. “I’m Gonna Teach You”from If I’ve Only One Time Askin’, 2015 Why it’s Essential:If I’ve Only One Time Askin’ is certainly the crown jewel of Romano’s country period and the lead off track hooks you right away. The string accompaniment is gripping, his voice sounds as full as ever, and the songwriting is highly efficient. Gateway to… Romano’s subtle embrace of grandiosity and cinematic flare; interludes. Key Moment: The initial flash of strings during the first few seconds of the song. RIYL: Real country music with strings! George Jones; Willie Nelson.
11. “She Was The World To Me”from Workin’ For The Music Man, 2010 and 12. “A New Love (Can Be Found)”from Come Cry With Me, 2013 Why They’re Essential: I couldn’t choose between two of Romano’s most tragic and beautiful songs. They are both recorded live making them all the more raw and vulnerable. Gateway to… Romano’s saddest side; one-off live tracks on albums. Key Moments: Both benefit from the rawness of the live takes; the distorted vocals on “A New Love” and the drawn out “be” near the end of “She Was The World To Me”. RIYL: Crying; live music; the sad boys of country.
13. “Roya”from Modern Pressure, 2017 Why it’s Essential: “Roya” is the sound of a potential hit for Romano and a foray into accessible song structure, melody, and beyond. It also sounds, dare I say, positive. It’s the sound of Romano learning to love. If only this had been written in the late sixties! Gateway to… The future, the past, and Romano’s present shape. Key Moment: The chorus is perfectly phrased and technically this happens after the song but, “LANDLORD!” RIYL: “Time Can Be Overcome”; songs about nice people; a little efficiency with your songwriting.
14. “Had To Hide Your Poem In A Song”from Mosey, 2016 Why it’s essential: One of Romano’s most pained and angry solo tunes. It is an incredible showcase of his spellbinding guitar playing (best experienced live), his vocal ability, and lyrical spite. It served as the first hint that Romano might be circling back to (or at least drawing from) his time with Attack in Black. Gateway to… Romano’s guitar heroics; his current live shows; the “heavier” tunes on Mosey and Modern Pressure. Key Moment: “COWARD!!!”; all the guitar. RIYL: Electric Dylan; choruses you can howl along to; meta poems.