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Danielson shine at the Southern

The Christian music group comes to Minneapolis with a new lineup that includes Sufjan Stevens.
Danielson shine at the Southern
Image by Photo courtesy J. Christiaan Pallidino

WHAT: Danielson

WHEN: 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday

WHERE: The Southern Theater, 1420 Washington Ave. S., Minneapolis

COST: $20; $12 student rush

After a 2006 album that won praise from Rolling Stone, the Guardian and even Entertainment Weekly, Christian rock group DanielsonâÄôs five-year hiatus following the release of âÄúShipsâÄú left listeners and critics scratching their heads over its retreat in the face of success.

Only since Feb. 22 has Danielson come out with a follow-up to its cosmic-rock âÄúShips,âÄù the pointedly more relaxed âÄúBest of Gloucester County.âÄú Come this weekend, Danielson will bring its best to the Southern Theater.

Danielson is the brainchild of New Jersey native Daniel Smith. The group began as a project submitted as SmithâÄôs senior thesis in 1994. Initially a family affair, the seeds of the band included solely Smith and his five younger siblings. Since then, the group has evolved from a shticky family band playing in nurseâÄôs uniforms to the ambitious 20-plus musician collective responsible for the grand and sonically expansive âÄúShips.âÄù

A critical success, the 2006 album opened the door for Danielson to the indie rock world that helped break their image as an eccentric, inaccessible religious family band and bolstered SmithâÄôs reputation as a visionary of his own craft. However, the buzz surrounding the album could only sustain itself for so long, and Danielson once again receded back into the pop-culture coffers.

âÄúIt certainly doesnâÄôt make for a good career move. It probably would have been really wise to come out with a new record two years after,âÄù Smith said.

âÄúBest of Gloucester CountyâÄù opens a new chapter in DanielsonâÄôs musical stylings, which have ranged from lo-fi freak folk to elaborate pop-rock orchestrations. ItâÄôs DanielsonâÄôs first album on SmithâÄôs own label, Sounds Familyre, and its homegrown character has suffused itself into the production and sound of the album, which at times takes on the tones of a wholesome jam session and cheery indie rock.

Smith has made the point of moving beyond the urgency and occasionally alienating sense of unmitigated enthusiasm to be found in his earlier albums. HeâÄôs shed his flamboyant canvas tree costume, aggressive glockenspiel playing and even most of his abrasive, shrieking falsetto for which he came to be known. In all, Smith has matured, and it shows most clearly in the stripped down, relaxed and sparse vocals on âÄúBest of Gloucester County.âÄù

âÄúI was much more interested in getting as much or more done with less words,âÄù Smith said.

SmithâÄôs experimentation suggests a comfort with his bandmates on âÄúBest of Gloucester Country,âÄù a touring group that currently includes his wife, musical peers and old friend Sufjan Stevens.

âÄúBest of Gloucester CountyâÄù is DanielsonâÄôs most accessible album to date but certainly not SmithâÄôs greatest project. The bandâÄôs best work has always been made on the fringe, and SmithâÄôs dismantling of his old âÄúTri-DanielsonâÄù musical concept following âÄúShipsâÄù to form the more integrative âÄúCommon DenominatorâÄù may indicate that he doesnâÄôt have any interest in once again tackling a large, themed project like âÄúShips.âÄù However, that isnâÄôt to say he wonâÄôt be able to unpack more playful and enigmatic surprises in the future.

âÄúI wouldnâÄôt know how to streamline anything if I tried,âÄù Smith said.

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