Top 10 of 2020 – Daniel Romano Edition

It’s a safe bet that at the start of pandemic restrictions this past March, many people immediately made plans to make the most of their time in isolation. Those artistic pursuits are sure to start trickling out over the next 12 months, but in Daniel Romano’s case, the question seemed to be, why wait?

The chameleon-like singer/songwriter from Welland, Ontario has wrapped up 2020 with no less than 10 new additions to his catalogue since March, available in Canada on his own You’ve Changed label. Such an audacious display of musical dexterity deserves its own analysis, so in lieu of a traditional year-end Top 10 list, here’s a breakdown of Daniel Romano’s incredible pandemic year.

[Bonus] Forever Love’s Fool (May)

We won’t count this as part of the main 10 since it’s technically a single, 22-minute piece featuring Tool’s drummer Danny Carey sitting with Romano’s regular band the Outfit. However, it’s far more than a predictable jam session. Weaving its way through several distinct prog/psych movements, the end result is a true journey to the centre of the mind.

10. Spider Bite (May)

Made with Steve Lambke of the Constantines (and Romano’s partner in You’ve Changed), Spider Bite is a raucous tribute to their shared early hardcore influences. With most of its 10 tracks not even breaking the two-minute mark, this is pure raw power delivered in a tight, clean package.

9. (What Could Have Been) Infidels (May)

This could be Romano’s most brilliant concept of the year—imagining if Bob Dylan had recorded his 1983 album Infidels with The Plugz, the L.A. punk band he’d been casually jamming with at the time. Romano pulls it off mainly because his voice has increasingly taken on a Dylanesque hue recently, but his approach here with the Outfit also reveals a lot of the songs’ previously hidden nuances.

8. Super Pollen (April)

This six-song sugar rush found Romano returning to the spirit of Attack In Black, the band that originally put him on the map. But the benefit of experience injects these tracks with a relentless modern power-pop energy that definitely leaves a hunger for more.

7. A Splendour Of Heart (July)

A collaboration under the banner Alias Ensemble, featuring Kelly Sloan, this 10-song collection echoes classic British psych-folk in the tradition of Fairport Convention and the Incredible String Band. Beautifully executed on all levels, with “Lilac About That Crown” and “Greenwood” particular standouts.

6. Okay Wow (May)

Out of 10 releases, we’ll allow one live album, especially one this good. Recorded at a 2019 Scandinavian show, Okay Wow captures the Outfit at the top of their game playing tracks mainly from Romano’s immediate pre-pandemic albums Finally Free and Modern Pressure. The rough-and-ready folk-punk expertly combines mid-‘60s Dylan and early Elvis Costello & The Attractions.

5. Visions Of A Higher Dream (March)

The year’s opening salvo, this one actually seems a little tame now in retrospect. But that’s taking nothing away from the meticulous craftsmanship inherent to the psych-pop of “Girl In A Bath Full Of Tears” and the twisted R&B of “Nobody Sees A Lowered Face,” complete with horns. Proof that Romano is right at home in any genre.

4. Dandelion (May)

More of an obvious studio creation than some of the other records, Dandelion brims with the sort of bright, organic indie-pop that marked Paul McCartney’s early solo work. Yet, Romano’s touchstones seem endless, from Nick Drake to XTC. Another smorgasbord for the discerning power pop fanatic.

3. Content To Point The Way (April)

Romano first established himself as a solo artist by demonstrating his love of classic country. Content To Point The Way found him returning to that approach with a cache of pedal-steel drenched weepers, and a few roof-raising stompers thrown in for good measure. A welcome reassurance that he hasn’t totally abandoned that side of his songwriting.

2. White Flag (Nov)

As Romano’s last 2020 release, this one seems to blend the best of all its predecessors into a single, convenient sampler. If this were the only album Romano released this year, it would surely have topped many critics’ lists. But as it is, White Flag may be the most convenient entry point to discovering Romano’s—dare I say it—genius.

1. How Ill Thy World Is Ordered (September)

It all seemed to be building up to this one. Romano pulled out all the stops on these 11 songs, not only channelling Dylan and the Beatles, but also at times some joyous E Street swagger. The sheer consistency Romano displays throughout How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is staggering, and something that needs to be taken seriously. What Romano has planned for 2021 is anyone’s guess, but his 2020 will stand as one of the most incredible achievements in Canadian music history.

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