PopDose.com August 14, 2008
2-CD Deluxe Reissue
by DW Dunphy
Have you read the entertainment news today? Oh boy. A particularly dreadful tune is set to break some major records for sales, this week's new movies arriving under a mantle of critical kudos have been trounced at the box office by The Dark Knight, a four-week winner no less, and the spate of mind-numbing reality TV shows, once considered dead in the water by pundits, are not only thriving but multiplying for the 2008/2009 season. It is, as the critics have feared, the grim realization that they have zero effect on the zeitgeist. But then again, we always knew that.
The few critics that actually heard Darn Floor Big Bite, the 1987 release by the band Daniel Amos, were flabbergasted. They praised the textured, atmospheric guitar work as a revelation in contrast to the band's keyboard-driven previous releases, Vox Humana and Fearful Symmetry. They were keen on the balancing act singer/writer Terry Scott Taylor had struck lyrically, still as literate and mature as before but not as heavy-handed. In a time where guitar groups were hair metal, and regular groups were messing with their synths, Daniel Amos (known at that point as Da to avoid the whole "Which one is Daniel" question. Answer: none) looked to the underground and came up with an angular, nervy winner.
And now you get to say, "Well it can't be that great, because I've never heard of it," which has been the bane of Da's musical existence from the start. The band started, of all things, as a thoroughly Christian country act, morphing into a Beatle-esque rock outfit, then fully embracing the original new wave ethic that was coming from CBGB darlings like Talking Heads and Television.
Problematically, they were the antithesis of most bands from the Christian subset. Their Beatles and Beach Boys influences came at a time when outside forces were totally verboten. Their four Alarma Chronicles albums (Alarma, Doppelganger, Vox Humana and Fearful Symmetry) plumbed the sounds of punk, garage, darkwave synth-rock and Krautrock, none of which sat well with the established Christian organizations, record labels and bookstores. They were alternately branded for "consorting," being too secularly intellectual and just plain too weird. Oddly, the secular music outlets rather much felt the same way in vice-versa terms.
Perhaps the most damning charge thrown at them was that they dared to criticize the Church as equally as they looked toward the scriptures. It has been one of the major drawbacks for people in accepting Christian rock as rock music with the specified worldview that discernment with worldly ways was fine, but when it came to investigating the hypocrisies within the institutions, well, it just wasn't done. Da, however, dared to go to that thorny place.
For their sins, they merely got snagged. Too Christian for them, too secular for those. What, in 1987, should have been a watershed moment, the return of guitar rock from the programmed abyss, ended up as less than a footnote in the book of releases. It also spawned a small but voracious group of dedicated fans, willing at a moment's notice to attempt turning you on to that which you've been missing. Then havoc struck again. Through the shutting down and changing hands of record labels, ownership rights and a dart that hadn't yet found a target, Darn Floor Big Bite went out of print and stayed there.
Twenty-plus years later, the Arena Rock Recording Company, home of Wilco offshoot the Autumn Defense, Calla, punk-poppers Harvey Danger, and Terry Taylor's own Stunt Productions company, are about to give the wheel another spin. Darn Floor Big Bite will return as a remastered deluxe double-disc set complete with updated packaging and a lot of hope that, this time, the dart finds dead center. Why an established independent record label believes they'll find an audience this time depends of your degree of backward glancing. Today the album has a contemporary indie rock feel, excepting some Eighties production giveaways. The guitar work of Greg Flesch is meaty here, dissonant there, comprised of as much drone and feedback as Byrdsian jangle.
It is not hyperbole to say Flesch is a rocket scientist because, in his day job, he actually is a rocket scientist. That analytical approach to playing, squeezing any and every sound imaginable from his instrument, indicates what a labor of love this was. Equally impressive is Tim Chandler, who's walking basslines do more than gird the rhythm. Acting as much as a secondary guitar than simply padding the bottom end, he achieves at times the interplay found on Television's landmark Marquee Moon. Drummer Ed McTaggart has garnered over the years a reputation for being a Charlie Watts kind of player – light on flash, heavy on precise timekeeping. It's a fair cop but, in the context of these songs, Bonzo flips or Keith Moon freakouts would have been far too much. His restraint allows the rest of the elements to truly be noticed.
Then there are the songs: "Return Of The Beat Menace" addresses the heart of the matter, that moment when the church elders looked down their nose at what the band was doing and deemed it inappropriate. The beat menace, if you hadn't assumed, was rock with the Christian worldview. "You live to correct / those who reject / the sins you connect to the beat menace / we've come to lay you low / we've come to vex your soul" – essentially: baby plus bathwater equals "out you go!"
"Darn Floor – Big Bite" brings about a theme found throughout Terry Taylor's work, being that the enormity and mystery of a divine presence is so much and so foreign to us that we don't have the slightest clue about it. The title refers to Koko the gorilla, famous for communicating in sign language. Her description of an earthquake, "darn floor, big bite!" Humans, in our efforts to put the divine in a box and say this is what it is evokes the same broken thought pattern as Koko. Heady stuff, especially for any institution conflicted with the notion of simian intelligence. The spare sound and off-kilter guitar only magnifies the foreignness.
"The Unattainable Earth," a personal favorite of mine, is primo Byrds-styled California jangle pop yet restates the theme that we can't possibly assume we know what it's all about, but we keep trying, through hope, through faith, through the miracle of human nature and our last remnant of innocence, our curiosity. It all comes together with the finale "The Shape Of Air" which, in its odd way, is a hymn to the surreal. "Pour cement 'round things / let it dry / break away things / see the design…" and "It's the shape of air / I can sit and stare / 'Til it's almost clear." And while the lyrics seem abstract, the vocals en mass at the close acts as a thesis – you have to admit there's something going on out there that we have no understanding of.
Da, now once again Daniel Amos, has been quasi-active even to the present. They sometimes slip into alter egos The Swirling Eddies (a story for another day) and Taylor has been a frequent musical collaborator with designer Doug TenNapel, providing music for his Neverhood and Boombots games as well as the Catscratch television show. McTaggart is a graphic designer, Chandler still does session work as a bassist and Flesch has that gig at NASA. Still, they repeatedly get the word out that, given their druthers, they'd rather be full-time members of Daniel Amos once more. If the rerelease of Darn Floor Big Bite makes an impact on the world of indie rock, that may yet happen.
Cross Rhythms January 13, 2009
2-CD Deluxe Reissue
by Mike Rimmer
It has always puzzled me why Daniel Amos were not a huger band. They were creative, imaginative and had the artistic strength to have surely become a big mainstream band. Instead they created and continue to enjoy a cult following where the songs of Terry Taylor find a home in the hearts of the faithful. This re-release celebrates their 1987 album with a sumptuous deluxe package including extended liner notes, a bonus disc of demos, live material and an interview with Taylor himself. The album, originally released under the band name D A, followed the last instalment of 'The Alarma Chronicles' and built on the musical direction the band had taken with 'Fearful Symmetry'.
The band's art rock new wave sound is very rooted in the '80s but has travelled pretty well in this 20th anniversary re-release. The combination of Taylor's songs and guitarist Greg Flesch's textures creates both haunting atmospheres and upbeat energy ranging from the moody "Earth Household" to the fantastic edgy title cut. The title was famously taken from Californian gorilla Coko who had been taught to sign words. After an earthquake Coko signed "Darn Floor - Big Bite". There are so many songs to enjoy here and my main favourites are the stripped down new wave of "Safety Net" and at the end of the album the two closing songs, "The Unattainable Earth" and "The Shape Of Air".
There's a great live recording of "The Unattainable Earth" recorded at the time when Taylor seemed genuinely moved that the crowd know the words to the song. 20 years on, this is still a classic Christian music album and worth investigating in its nicely repackaged form and perhaps for music fans new to the band, a good place to start discovering one of the consistently great Christian rock bands of all time.
Harvest Rock Syndicate Winter 1987/88
5 points out of 5
by Mark Eischer
Darn Floor, Big Bite is an exercise in discovery a moody, magnificent album which defies easy description. Each listening brings new insights, impressions building up like the coats of lacquer on a Japanese jewel-box. Maybe this shouldn't even be called a 'review.' A review is after the fact, past-tense
a summation. I'll be frank-I'm still in the process of absorbing Da's newest record. Chalk it up to the
weakness of language, I guess.
Greg Flesch continues to amaze as Da's resident mad scientist of Guitar and Attendant Technology. His innovative, angular guitar effects complement
Terry Taylor's provocative lyrics. Tim Chandlers dissonant bass lines crawl like big lizards through the underbrush of engineer Doug Doyle's mixes. Ed McTaggart again contributes excellent artwork and of course, Big Drums.
The album's basic idea is that all human attempts to describe God fall short and fail. A thought Which - has probably never creased the brow of Chris Christian, it is basically just another variation on the "now we see as through a glass darkly" theme.
Taylor adds a new twist by relating humanity's futile attempts at grasping the Divine to the story of Koko the Gorilla, a primate some scientists taught to 'sign" simple words. The gorilla's best attempt at describing the experience of an earthquake came out as 'darn' floor, big bite.' Terry Taylor apparently read that line
in National Geographic, a little light went "Sproing!" and the rest is history, as the animal kingdom provides its richest literary alussion since Lassie, Come Home.
Calling the Koko experiment "sign language" is itself a faulty description, as I discovered when I tried to explain the album to a friend of mine who works as an interpreter for the deaf. She didn't really see much humor in it in fact, she was rather offended by the whole Koko idea, as though it were somehow a
putdown of deaf people. So it goes.
"The Unattainable Earth" continues the communication-as-distortion theme, propelled along by some of the album's most memorable hooks and a looping guitar riff reminiscent of the Beatles' Revolver period.
Da fanatics looking for their newest cult Classic need look no further than the opening track, "Return of the Beat Menace." Terry Taylor takes on the Baton
Rouge Bomber with this account of a backwoods ayatollah gone hog-wild. The song is not so much about rock-bashing, though, as about clashing
cultures and media manipulation. At the downlink end of the televangelist's satellite network sits an eskimo "He buys a suit and tie/re-styles his hair like girls
in Tupelo/and sings 'Sweet Bye and Bye." It's too real to be funny.
In "Strange Animals," Taylor applies the theme to human relationships: "If I were to give you/an animal's name/Could I keep you locked/in a (age in my brain?"
Taylor will probably win few friends among Biblical Inerrantists, thanks to the implications of this albums theme. Yet, for all its dissonance and
angularity, its tribalistic Techno-Primitive rage, Darn Floor, Big Bite is ultimately a prayer for deeper understanding. The title song sums it up: "Illuminate my muddled/Sweep the shadows from my mind/so I might imagine what you are like/and understand the great design."
"The Shape of Air" seems to quote the melody of Amy Grant's 'I Can Fly. " Whether the reference is intentional or not, it helps create a sense of innocence
and wonder which concludes the record.