During the COVID-19 pandemic, Daniel Romano dropped eight releases between March 15 and May 26, 2020. Fans were expecting the live album “Okay Wow” as it had been scheduled for release prior to the pandemic and state-of-emergency lockdowns, but from “Visions of the Higher Dream” onward, no one knew quite what to expect, except to expect the unexpected.
It’s taken some time (because, frankly, we aren’t quite sure when/if Romano’s New Record Wednesdays will end) but a team of DOMINIONATED’s writers have collected their thoughts on all eight releases in one single post.
“Visions of the Higher Dream”
(released March 15, 2020)
Over the years, fans have come to expect the unexpected from Daniel Romano, but “Visions of the Higher Dream” was by far the most serendipitous blessing in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Day by day and hour by hour, the rules and regulations that governed our collective health and safety were changing. But music — especially finely detailed and lovingly rendered songs like “Nobody Sees A Lowered Face” and “Girl In A Bath Full Of Tears” — remained constant and true. A jewel such as “Lilac About Thy Crown” will always sparkle and shine no matter how chaotic the world gets.
Romano could not possibly have predicted just how much his lyrics would codify our collective experiences, not just in the wake the pandemic, but also in the swelling movement against anti-black racism and systemic oppression of BIPOC: “My weariness is gathering / My legs too weak for roaming”, yet we must collectively persevere and push forward. We need to steel ourselves for the road to recovery ahead. On “Nobody Sees A Lowered Face”, Romano asks, “Through the night / Why do I beg for daylight?”. The answer to that question — and, in essence, every other question and uncertainty the world is collectively facing right now — is simple: it’s because we’re human. • Jim Di Gioia
(released March 28, 2020)
Okay Wow is a career-spanning and career-defining album for Daniel Romano, despite being a live record. It is an essential document that immortalizes a musician and performer at the peak of their powers, flanked by the most consistent gang of musicians he has employed since his days in Attack in Black. I’ve written about the musical chemistry Romano has with himself, but hearing the Outfit take songs from records like Mosey, Finally Free, and Modern Pressure and turn them into supercharged, breakneck rock anthems is something else altogether.
The Outfit (Romano, his brother Ian on drums, Dave Nardi on guitar, Julianna Riolino on backing vocals, Roddy Rossetti on bass, and the mysterious Tony Cicero on the organ) is as well oiled a band as you will ever hear. Each song seamlessly flows into the next, and each instrument, voice, and player is easily heard and — more importantly — felt. If there is another live album that sounds this alive and crisp, I have not heard it. It’s thrilling to hear old favourites from “the country years,” like “Strange Faces” and “Time Forgot (To Change My Heart)”, given an electric facelift. Definitive versions of “Turtle Doves”, “Nerveless”, and “Human Touch” from Romano’s 2018 limited-edition digital-only albums are infused with an energy not felt in the originals. The same can be said about nearly every song on “Okay Wow”. Dave Nardi and Julianna Riolino’s backing vocals are elevating, and Ian Romano’s furious and beastly drumming sends these already god-tier tunes into the fucking stratosphere.
Romano is comfortably settled into his role as a cult favourite over the past decade (despite our best efforts); “Okay Wow” is a gift to fans who’ve followed him through his many musical iterations. The songs we’ve come to love over the years are gloriously presented and blown-out into high definition. It could also prove to be the essential jumping-off point for everyone late to the party. • Mac Cameron
(released April 24, 2020)
About Super Pollen — the beginning of an incredible stretch of weekly releases — Daniel Romano writes “I have no idea when any of it was recorded and I definitely don’t remember doing it.” It’s an infuriating admission, given how good the songs are — sharp and crackling with energy. It also gives us some insight into how busy and creatively abundant Romano’s mind is at all times.
Romano is joined on Super Pollen by his brother, current member of the Outfit, and fellow Attack in Black (RIP) member Ian Romano, as well as Jonah Falco and Mike Haliechuck, members of both Fucked Up and Jade Hairpins. It’s a punk EP that flies by as quickly and as furiously as a pollen-induced sneeze. There’s a lot of guitars, Romano’s vocals peak just above their gritty tones, and the percussion pounds relentlessly. “I’m Afraid of Elevators” has such a furious pace that it feels like the cables are going to snap at any minute; thankfully, they never do. And as somebody named Laura who hates getting her haircut, “Laura Doesn’t Like Her Haircut” is a little treat for me. But the EP’s crowning jewel is the perpetually relevant “Still Hate Cops.” When Romano sneers, “I always will hate cops,” you feel it deep in your bones. • Laura Stanley
Content to Point the Way
(released April 29, 2020)
Much of what I love about Content to Point the Way as an album, and as a singular component of Daniel Romano’s stunning run of new music, is articulated perfectly by Bandcamp user Riff Spreader: “I like a lot of Daniel Romano’s work, but he could just crank out 2 or 3 of these country albums a year and I’d be in heaven. This is like a warm blanket.” That’s goddamn right.
In and amongst these other records that exude a free-flowing sense of experimentation and genre ADD, Content to Point the Way is a hearty, homely, straightforward collection of Romano-brand country that calls back to records like If I’ve Only One Time Askin’. This time around, however, he doesn’t go it alone. The Outfit plays an integral role on this record and adds new dimensions and skillful musicianship to the tried-and-tested formula: the guitars are sharper, the drums more nuanced, the harmonies more gorgeous, and the pedal steel is as achingly beautiful as ever.
Working within conventional song structures, Romano and the Outfit create absolute magic. From the more sombre, melancholic drinkers like “If Words Can’t Express It”, “Bits and Pieces”, “Diamonds and Dogs” and “You’d Think I’d Think” to the hilarious irreverence of tracks like “Little Shirley Melrose” and “They Haven’t Got a Word for That Yet” (the best display of Romano’s almost ridiculous lyrical control), Content to Point the Way follows an immensely satisfying pathway of emotional peaks and valleys. It passes by with such effortless grace and formal precision that it feels like it’s always been there, waiting for you to come back, crawl under, and cozy on up. • Geoff Parent
“Forever Love’s Fool”
(released May 6, 2020)
Mid-way through high school I tried my best to move on from the mainstream alternative music I had fallen in love with. I started to search for sounds that were a little more down to earth and a little more raw. If you had told seventeen-year-old me that, years in the future, there would be a 23-minute song — that stands as one of the best songs of the year — by the singer from Attack in Black that featured the drummer from Tool, I wouldn’t have believed you. I also might not have gotten rid of my Tool t-shirt. • Mac Cameron
Daniel Romano’s Outfit Do (What Could Have Been) “Infidels” By Bob Dylan & The Plugz
(released May 13, 2020)
In 1984, the year following the release of the underappreciated Infidels, Bob Dylan was booked to perform on The Late Show with David Letterman. The 80s is generally thought of as a decade in which Dylan was at his, shall we say… least inspired. He had lost his credibility as a politically charged counter culture hero of the 60s and was missing the ferocity and emotional drive of the 70s. Simply put, he was slipping from the zeitgeist.
Given all of this, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine Dylan going through the motions. But surprisingly, after a few distorted guitar twangs, the camera pans over to find him backed by a group of kids in their 20s: The Plugz. This young Los Angeles punk band brought new energy to a tired Dylan. Singing with new inflections and nearly dropping to his knees while playing guitar, Dylan hardly ever seemed so free and loose. Dylan and The Plugz ended up playing four songs for their set, two of which appear on Infidels.
With Daniel Romano’s Outfit Do (What Could Have Been) “Infidels” By Bob Dylan & The Plugz, Romano and his cohort pull inspiration from this performance and pay homage to this forgotten gem of Dylan’s extensive catalogue.
Watching the performance, it’s not hard to see what got Romano’s attention. Whether you have seen him live or listened to Okay Wow, he clearly saw and responded viscerally to the renewed stamina and fervor of this late-night rip.
Not entirely keeping true to Dylan’s original compositions, Romano adapts the original release, changing the pace, lyrical cadence, and instrumental arrangements of each track. Quite frankly, it feels like Romano took more inspiration from the effect The Plugz had on Dylan than he did from Dylan himself. Right off the bat, “Jokerman” throws you right into the intensity and holds your feet to the fire the whole way through. The revised rendition of ‘Sweetheart Like You’ is blissful and the energy of the track elevates the original’s emotional weight. On ‘Union Sundown’, Romano echoes Dylan’s disillusionment with capitalism’s habit of labour abuse. Though there are a few political tracks, most of Infidels deals with love, growth, and insecurity in a very real way. Since these are common themes for Romano, the lyrics carry a level of sincerity not often felt on cover albums.
Dylan’s collaboration with The Plugz was a kind of passing-of-the-torch moment, with the legend recognizing a style of protest music that would come to build new cultural bridges. With his cover of Infidels and with his incredible run of new music, Romano is answering Dylan’s call for new sounds, and new bridges, that will hopefully bring us together. • Myles Tiessen
(released May 20, 2020)
Days before the release of Spider Bite, I was listening to Constantines. I have listened to that first Cons album hundreds of times at this point, but on this particular run through, I was struck by Steven Lambke. It was “Seven A.M.” that got me thinking how much I would love to hear him go this hard on the mic again.
Since Constantines entered their initial hiatus, Lambke has become best known as the driving force behind You’ve Changed Records and for his brand of soft, yet intense folk records. His delivery is, and has always been, a cross between spoken word and Youngian warble. It’s a combination that sounds fucking awesome when a little bit of piss and vinegar is added to the mix. Serendipitously, my wish to hear that renewed piss and vinegar was granted faster than I could have imagined.
Spider Bite is a fast and furious, in-the-moment gut punch, recorded as it was written. Backed up by fellow former-punks Ian and Daniel Romano (on drums and everything else, respectively), Lambke lists his demands and addresses the immediate issues that arose in the aftermath of total lockdown. On “UBI” he cries for Universal Basic Income (“I want it! I need it!”). He mocks so-called snitch lines on “Snitch Line”. He also addresses problems plaguing our world before the coronavirus shut everything down, like Canada’s racist past and present on “Hospitals and Graveyards” (“I want to see declarations of peace and sovereignty nailed to the Parliament door, I want to see those cops stripped of guns and power.”), and the ever looming threat of climate change on “Heat Wave” (“It’s gonna get a whole lot hotter in the days to come….because it’s a heat wave baby, it’s a heat wave!”).
Spider Bite is the most purely fun offering from Romano’s quarantine albums, harkening back to the days when three-chords played at hyperspeed seemed like the most dangerous thing in the world. And while Spider Bite is unlikely to bring down the government, it’s more than just twenty minutes of fun. It’s deadly serious in its rage and intent and an exciting document of the deep sense of injustice that has risen to the surface during quarantine’s anxious calm. • Mac Cameron
(released May 27, 2020)
God almighty, if Dandelions isn’t stunning! You could forgive Romano for resting on his laurels some after a seven-week run of recordings, but there is a special something that sets Dandelions apart from the pack. If I interpret what he’s written about the record on social media correctly, Dandelions was recorded solo in a week’s time. That spontaneity and energy are captured beautifully in the music. It’s his most singer-songwriterly album since Sleep Beneath the Willows, only with less torch and twang and more angst and finesse. That’s a strange combination, but regardless of when the actual songs were written, Romano performs them in a way that captures the feeling of finding oneself in ongoing isolation at the dawn of a new season when our natural instincts are to get outside and be alive. • Jim Di Gioia