Like a great shadow, the echo of one’s environment casts a large silhouette. For Denver Dalley, the figure overlooking him is the vastly tranquil state of Nebraska; home to some of indie rock’s most notable names. So it is going to take a grand effort to overcome the burden of being a young musician from Omaha, and a greater one to slip away from the Conor Obersts and Tim Kashers of the locale. Dalley makes it no easier on himself by tracing well worn paths made by his state counterparts – sharing a project with Oberst being his biggest aesthetic hurdle. Yet it is clear that Dalley yearns to break out on his own; not to cast a shadow, but to shine his own light on the soul-breaking misery of both Bright Eyes’ and Cursive’s immensely tortured sound. With the release of the Statistics’ self titled EP a little while ago, proof was abound that he was eager to do so.
As clear as the summer sky, Dalley proved that his musical horizon gleams far differently from that of Oberst and Kasher; instead lining up to more ephemeral, undulating constructs made from synthesizers and other less organic tools. With Leave Your Name, he reaches far from the artful and plows his way into sounds made by sweeping melodies, stocky riffs and enough spatial arrangements to propel him to the moon. “Sing a Song”, “The Grass is Always Greener” and “Reminisce” all trundle down this road – roaring guitars, weaving basslines and sprinkles of electronic gadgetry that swathes into one breezy, atmospheric sound. It is perhaps the album’s finest quality, one that is not without its faults. Crafting songs to become more than just single compositions is by nature a striving objective, but an aspiration that suffers from Dalley’s personal “greenness” – his undeniable youthful naiveté, his biggest drawback.
While many have said Conor Oberst’s lyrical and musical ability is years ahead of his time, Dalley will earn no such praise. Musically sound, his failure to evoke even the slightest notions of lyrical grandeur plagues Leave Your Name with that sense of “he still has got a lot to learn.” In “Sing a Song”, he calls out his critics and reviewers (not a good idea son) with obtuse observations of those who will undoubtedly scrutinize his work, “The songs are all done / and as they go down on tape / the critics click their pens / comparisons made in name / dropped in all bold face / to sound like his best friends,” tongue-in-cheek perhaps, but rather weak and trivial.
The rather obvious, but vehemently denied, undertones of the “The Grass is Always Greener” speak to a “rocker who can’t choose between life at home and the excitement of the road” – and indeed first impressions say, “Disparage Conor! Disparage! Censure!”, but the casual lyricism, “back at home now / sees old friends and dates a girl / says he’s happy but he wants to go on tour / and so it goes the grass is always greener” and ambiguous tone does enough to avoid clearly marking it as diatribe towards Oberst (Dalley denies it has anything to do with Oberst but c’mon! Don’t you see? Dalley is upset because the rise of Bright Eyes cut short the ascension of Desaparecidos – elementary my dear reader).
Perhaps his most futile effort comes in “Hours Seemed Like Days,” where he seemingly provides play-by-play on society’s technological advances, “CDs skipped and vinyl’s back / MP3s and not 8-track … Beta turned to DVD / claymation is gone and now its all become CG / movie sets don’t exist but there’s always a blue screen,” without really having any sort of purpose or position. Indeed, we were once cave men and at one point, we felt that the feudal system was the way to go, communism seemed like a good idea and … Where’s the stop button?
Nevertheless, Dalley’s words could use an overhaul of sorts but thankfully, while his rhymes border on inane, his music can often be lucid and distinctive. The three abovementioned tracks all boast musical arrangements that more than make up for the poor lyrical expression. On more than one instance on Leave Your Name, songs are interludes (less than a minute instrumentals) bridging the album’s more filled offerings and avoid the pitfall that is his very thin lyric book. And while stunted on several occasions, Dalley seems able enough to pull away from his brethren. His first full length effort, boosted by his ability to paint images with his music rather than his words is keen assurance that he is one of Omaha’s brightest sons.
(Jade Tree Records)