I have to admit that, for the last month, I was not able to fall asleep to anything other than J.D. Emmanuel’s Solid Dawn.
I first discovered Daniel’s music on the excellent I Am The Center compilation; this was one of those surprisingly cross over records that gets reviewed in The Wire magazine, but also one may read about it on both French Vice and Pitchfork. I also recently spotted it in the Rush Hour store.
Despite the multiple listens, I only started looking for information on James Daniel before starting this review. There is no Wiki entry, but his website is pretty much a treat it itself - on his homepage you can see this photo of a guy wearing a cowboy hat in a Tony Bahamas shirt standing besides three keyboards. It looks like one of those ridiculous late ‘90s amateur musician websites where the artist strikes the “me and my instrument” pose, photographed by his mum/wife/bff.
If you haven’t listened to his music previously, this may seem like a total turn off. However, upon further reading about this new-age guy from Texas who describes his music as ‘’electronic minimal’’ and cites Terry Riley, Steve Reich and free jazz among his influences, well, there’s someone you can’t really diss.
His compositions are particularly strange and complex; unearthing this information about his process and musical background sheds a little light on exactly why they sound so unique and captivating.
I still can’t get over his homepage description talking about spiritual awakening, conceiving music as a form of time travel and electronic meditation. This is probably the best part of the whole text and might explain its therapeutic qualities in curing my insomnia: ‘’My music is wonderful as background when working, reading or studying to help focus for better retention without getting too tired, as well as used for relaxation or during a massage to release tension better for deeper body work.’’However, I do believe this to be a gross understatement of his work, placing him among Arizona topaz-peddlers and other cheap ‘80s hippies.
J.D. Emmanuel’s music transcends the logic of new age healing music and his compositions may comfortably sit along the works of the so-called respected minimalist composers he admires so much.
Just like other forgotten hippies that resurfaced in the mid-2000s (Linda Perhacs comes to mind), Daniel’s story is one of the ‘mystery box in the thrift store’’ kind. Sure, labels have been using this “found flea market tape’’ strategy lately to the point of people seriously starting to wonder whether or not this is ‘’real shit from the 80s’’ or just a fabrication of nostalgic hipsters.
Drew Daniels was questioning whether or not this need for authenticity is really important in our understanding of the music in a review of Lewis’ L'Amour; his argument was in favor of this fascinating area of suspended disbelief – ultimately, there’s a strange beauty in not knowing.
In 2005, music journalist Douglas Mcgowan stumbled upon a couple of cases of dusty vinyl records in a library when he moved to Texas. They contained two of Emmanuel’s releases from the early ‘80s. As the story goes, this discovery leads to critically acclaimed reissues and even Daniel’s return to performing and recording in 2010. Although Echoes from Ancient Caves and Wizards are considered his best releases, I believe this compilation to be a good introduction to his work.
It may have something to do with the fact that this is a collection of early, neglected, previously-unreleased tracks. Or maybe I do have a strange fascination for the marginal and overlooked. Or it probably just holds a special place in my mind due to my personal connection to it. Whichever it may be, this is a very beautiful collection of melodic drones that would appeal to both the noise fans and the electronic music aficionados dipping their toes into beat less music.
Tracklist:1. Movement Into Lightspeed
2. Sunrise Over Galveston Bay
3. 7 Note Trance
5. Through The Inner Planes
6. March Of The Colossus