Those who think that Bon Iver‘s Justin Vernon has the artistic monopoly on locking himself away in a cabin had better consider the work of Henry David Thoreau. The writings of the famous American poet, recluse and naturalist form the lyrical basis for David Karsten Daniels’ third album, a unique collaboration with Virginian nine-piece jazz improvisers Fight The Big Bull.
As you’d expect from such cross breeding of well-established genres, the album feels old fashioned and yet highly original at the same time. Karsten Daniels’ rich multi-layered vocals are finely balanced with Fight The Big Bull’s ramshackle discord. But the real revelation is the use of Thoreau’s poetry, something that steeps the album in a sense of joyful beauty. The natural cycle of death and regeneration is celebrated in full, adding a spectral quality to the tracks. Not since Arcade Fire‘s Funeral has the grim reaper had such a lyrical presence.
This doesn’t mean that the album is maudlin or depressing. It’s haunting and shimmering and grounded in a celebration of the seasons. At times it can best be described by the contradictory phrase “exultant dirge” – meaning it walks the melancholic and joyful tightrope that is life itself. It’s these many contradictions that add an extra layer. There are more conventional moments, but these playfully morph into Dixieland jazz or New Orleans funeral marches. But taken altogether, it’s an album that lures you in with the familiar only to flow into natural discord. Fight The Big Bull also love a good clatter and there are moments of sheer chaotic abandon to relish.
Karsten Daniels’ vocals are also worth highlighting. The multi-layered recording technique amplifies him into a choral presence that adds gravitas to the poetic lyrics and helps to balance his presence against his formidable collaborators. The album’s highlight Each Summer Sound is an epic and beautiful piece that typifies the success of this musical marriage.
An album that blends traditional folk with avant-garde Jazz is sure to raise a few eyebrows. At times I Mean To Live Here Still sounds like the bastard offspring of Fleet Foxes and Led Bib; a heady combination that will cause ears to instantly prick up. The album is an intriguing coming together of musicians successfully transcending their musical boundaries, firing invention and beauty in random directions. It shouldn’t work, but it certainly does. No bull.