Cold comfort from Chicago’s backstreet boy
Daniel Knox Chasescene (H.P. Johnson Presents)
DANIEL KNOX learned how to play music in public, at night. Back in the Nineties, freshly dropped out of film school, he would drift in and out of luxe hotels in downtown Chicago, find a piano in the basement and experiment until the staff kicked him out. He continues to work as a cinema projectionist (and occasional organist) in his native city, and still spends a lot of time wandering in the darkest hours as his deadpan Instagram feed attests: discarded unicorn horns; frozen hot-dog stands; pretty reflections in the asphalt.
That’s how his music sounds too. “I try to reach for you but always/I haunt the corners and the hallways/I’m always late for my applause/I try to reach you with my claws …”
Chasescene is Knox’s fourth album and the one that ought to expand his cult beyond Chicago (David Lynch, Rufus Wainwright and Jarvis Cocker were all early converts). The production is old Hollywood by way of Weimar Berlin: tipsy pianos, swooning strings and debonair melodies.
Knox’s baritone is supple and graceful, but it rarely provides comfort. The title track is a lovelorn murder ballad. On the country-tinger Leftovers, he displays some of the vituperative wit of a Father John Misty or John Grant: “Getting tired of this musicless dance/Why don’t you put your hand down my pants?” But it’s the murmured, melancholy afterthought that lifts the song: “And then we will be going somewhere… stranger.”
At other moments he is content to play cinematographer: Nina Nastasia sounds like a doomed Disney witch on The Poisoner; Cocker lends his seedy whisper to Capitol; the instrumental waltz that opens the album really deserves its own Netflix series. A warm tinkle of chandeliers before you’re thrown out into the elements.