You may have heard people say we live in muddled and confusing times. To help us listeners out until the Unclear Era ends, musicians often articulate their methods and aesthetics historically. They, and we, plant flags in the past, the present, and even the future, pretending we can measure the distances, write it down.
Daniel DiMaggio, the mind behind Home Blitz, is not interested in that, but he could be. He has been a young savant for over a decade now, a repository of “weird punk” and “power pop” information disseminated through Home Blitz, and of “avant-garde primitivism” and “unlistenable noise” through the far-too-neglected, and defunct, Car Commercials, among others. His records have given listeners a glimpse into a mind dedicated to the close listening of records and the emotional texture of contemporary anxieties, which is sometimes closely linked to the close listening of records.
But on Foremost & Fair, his newest full-length, the emotions leap higher and further, and the increasing sophistication of his songwriting warps his power-pop forms beyond recognition. Sure, back-of-the-envelope calculations of DiMaggio’s avowed love for Game Theory, Young Tradition, Cock Sparrer, and others will yield an approximation of the album’s sonic map: a power-pop record constructed by an avant-garde imagination and infused with Renaissance-ish melodies, glockenspiels, and glockenspiel settings. There are ballads, hook-laden singles, and a wrench-in-the-gears track of stumblings that ends like the new Food Court record recorded in a food court. Each track’s architecture reveals new surprising paths and influences. Before we leap into the emotional pull of this record, let it be said it is formally a near-masterpiece, and I only hesitate to give it a perfect score because I feel he will only get better. DiMaggio’s breadth and particularity, and the felicity of that breadth and particularity, are masterful.
The varied instrumentation and the bygone-era vibe of Walter Scott-style yesteryear are new to Home Blitz. DiMaggio has always been able to splice together great guitar melodies into long-lasting earworms, like on his last full-length LP, 2009’s Out of Phase. DiMaggio shook off the “weird punk” genre’s easily rut-making conventions to play his best songs. And they felt personal. He and his band were reaching just beyond their technical abilities, which was exhilarating and exposed the “made” nature of the music without being precious. The lyrics — portraits of party behavior, reports of fumbled romantic feelings, declarations of individual self-worth directed at both the singer and the listener, cynical remarks, the need to “do things that people don’t think you’re gonna do” — were maybe par for the course, but DiMaggio had earnest charisma and some personal tics that could develop into an even more personal poetics.
Where he used to grapple with the edges of his talents and his voice, he is now more assured on Foremost & Fair. The clearer production pushes his unadorned voice to the front of the mix. Lyrically, he moves deftly between his lyrical concerns of the past and, correlating to the instrumentation, a new wide-angle narrator-voice used for historical dramatizations of Biblical and 17th-century set pieces. It’s a startling effect, and as a long-time listener, I was stunned at first. After repeated listens, I began to hear the rhythm within the album of DiMaggio’s oscillations between these universal and particular strategies. It creates a terrific amount of emotional energy and imagery. He dismisses starting a band on “Downtown,” breathlessly narrates Middle Ages betrayal on “Tell Me There,” and asks you if you’ve ever seen Christ on the cross on “Betton Hall.”
Historical identification is often an opportunity for grandiosity and self-mythologizing, but DiMaggio comes out of the record sounding only like someone yearning toward self-expression, moving from era to era to search and discover, not to claim or conquer. And what he learns, or what he identifies, is more human confusion.
I could highlight any song here, but I’ll pick one: “Cutting the Cross,” the bouncy, relatively subdued final track, which rides HB’s barre-chord blues jangle and a boogie piano over a story of deeply-felt romantic loss. In true power-pop form, she left him for a friend. Some lyrics: “Back on the street/ Out of the car seat/ Yeah, I should be ashamed” […] “I’m ready for a scourge to score/ Every time I cross that line/ Cut the cross/ Just let stigmata multiply” […] “All the times it took/ To read his face when he sees your look/ It’s got me shook.”
He’s not just scrambled by the situation, but he’s scrambled across time, across himself, and across the people around him. The confidence in his songs comes not from a well-placed and well-measured flag, but from finding words for his feelings within this maelstrom of possibilities.
And then the chorus, and the final lines of the record, which I continue to ponder, months after this maybe-too-late review runs: “Thought I was set for an age/ But there’s something about just seeing it played/ Right in front of your face/ Everyday.”
There are so many temporal shades here, so much feeling flowing across time. In the end, it makes me yearn for the past, the present, the future, and for being right here, coping. And that’s a confusing feeling.
01. Seven Thirty
02. I’m That Key
03. The Tide
04. A In E
06. The Hall
07. Betton Hill
08. Tell Me There
09. Why It Cries
10. Sick And Crazy
12. Cutting The Cross
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