Cold com­fort from Chicago’s back­street boy

Evening Standard - West End Final Extra - - Staying In - Richard God­win

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.

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