David Karsten Daniels & Fight the Big Bull – I Mean to Live Here Still (FatCat)

Reaching for the stars, Daniels' latest collaborative work is full of otherworldly compositions

Released Jun 21st, 2010 via FatCat / By Simon Harper
David Karsten Daniels & Fight the Big Bull – I Mean to Live Here Still (FatCat) The latest album from San Francisco-based singer-songwriter David Karsten Daniels – his sixth studio album, and third since signing to FatCat – is the product of his collaboration with nine-piece avant-jazz act Fight the Big Bull. Not surprisingly, I Mean to Live Here Still heads in a completely different direction to its two predecessors, adding new layers to Daniels’ Americana-fuelled songs, and the get-together seems like an inspired one.

Opening track ‘All Things Are Current Found’ is essentially the album in microcosm – a dense cacophony of harmonies and an affecting amalgam of melody and noise, reaching for the stars. Poignant and rousing, it captures the essence of Daniels’ pairing with the nonet, where polyrthyms and straining horns underpin Daniels’ hypnotic, multi-tracked vocals.

In a similar vein, ‘Die and Be Buried’ and the gorgeous ‘Each Summer Sound’ explore this dynamic further, taking smoky jazz atmospherics and country-folk ingredients to create a swelling and startlingly emotive arrangement, complemented by Daniels’ aching vocal, which rises and swoons while skronking horns toil and tease. What follows is an extended, dub-like coda which provides another intersection of talents, with Fight the Big Bull coming to the fore and running with the chance to turn the song into a loping jam.

For all the moments when the nine-piece cut loose and trace complex patterns, there are also some enchantingly immediate tunes here too, not least the rollicking country-rock stylings of ‘The Funeral Bell’, the result being a cousin of fellow Americana explorers such as Midlake, while the mournful ‘Though All the Fates’ contains fragments of Tijuana brass and even hints of ragtime in its drunken coda. Somehow, managing to refract all of these disparate elements into a coherent and unique sound appears effortless, and a quiet triumph.

Rustic at its heart, I Mean to Live Here Still finds Daniels and Fight the Big Bull crafting some genuinely moving and luxuriously textured vignettes, peppered with soaring harmonies and a raft of duelling components which seem to work together fantastically well, possibly against the odds. The jazz combo’s free arrangements discover a welcome compatriot in Daniels, whose folk-derived songs are transformed into otherworldly compositions which sound deliciously huge. A riveting record and perhaps his best yet.