Daniel and the Lion – Death Head

Although most people probably don’t care how I “discovered” a band, I find the story with DATL to be particularly fun. They did a cover of Ray Charles “Hallelujah I Love Her So” that was so incredible I had to know more about the band. I found an album called Death Head that was in two parts on bandcamp and almost didn’t even click play. It looked like they were metal or something and I had found the wrong band. Errrnt. Right band. And this two part album? A masterful work of music. Let me introduce you to Daniel and the Lion.

Daniel and the Lion is a labor of love comprised of Daniel Pingrey, Jimmie Linville, Darren Garvey, Daniel McMahon, and Adam Plamann. Covering a variety of styles that, at times, can sound like Coldplay to classic country, this is a truly spectacular band. These are the kind of artists that, despite having an inbox full of new music from people all over the world, I continue coming back to this 11 song double EP. At times soothing, sometimes challenging, Daniel and the Lion’s combination of good lyrics, full string sound, and sometimes more subtle arrangements keep me smiling, literally, as I make my way through the album.

“Death Head,” the title track on “Side A” of the album has the full compliment of strings, horns, and rock band. It has a well-produced studio sound that puts me in mind of any number of pop rock groups (think Counting Crows, for example). Then, the following “Need You” sounds nearly identical to “I don’t wanna lose your love tonight” by The Outfield. Seriously I find myself singing along with the wrong words because everything from the structure, to the beat, to the melody all reflect that classic tune. When you get down to it, this is a song about a failing relationship that the songwriter clearly wants to save. It is a heart cry that is equal parts ballad and rock song. It works.

“Forever” could have come directly from a Coldplay album and I’m not sure anyone would have questioned it. “And I can’t even find you when you run back into the arms of another man…” the lyrics are fundamentally blues, but the song structure is almost anthemic. It sounds like the kind of tune that could have about 30,000 fans in a crowded arena singing along. I honestly think these guys have that kind of potential. They are “next level” talented with both an ear for good music and the skill set to pull it off.

Now with “Flash Flood” the band gears things back down again for a classic country sound. The lead singer is different, the music structured with a definitive pop country quality. If we didn’t know better, we’d swear these are two different bands. Good bands, but certainly not the same set of musicians. (I’m still wondering if that variety is an advantage or a disadvantage. For now I think it’s a good thing.) It’s really a mature song that addresses a lasting relationship. The writer is reflecting on his aging (and unsuccessful) friendships, finally to rely on his mate who is his “flash flood.” The repeated “I’ve got you” has a sort of endearing quality to it that defines the song.

While Side A featured a majority of rock-influenced music, Side B opens with “Lavender,” a soothing strings-dominated love song. Even though the electric guitar is a defining part of the song, the strings at the beginning set the tone for the next several songs. This is a lullaby and everything from the strings to the vocal harmonies accomplish its goal. Beautiful, truly.

If I worked for this band, I would tell them to send “On Berlin” to every radio station that accepts submissions. This… is an absolutely INCREDIBLE pop song. It sounds like it could have come from Coldplay or Owl City or any number of bands that fills enormous venues. A high pitched male lead over piano and orchestral strings. It connotes a feeling of flying or just being transcendent and powerful. I will tell my running friends to download it. Really, it’s that kind of liberating, freeing, and encouraging song that deserves to be on TV shows and radio waves. The message of the song is a little bit difficult to follow, but it has to do with dreams and love and “hearts colliding.” The listener can fill in the connections, which was probably the purpose anyways.

Despite my gushing about “On Berlin,” the following song “The Dark Red Waltz” might be the best song by this band. Structurally it’s one of the simpler songs on the album, but it sounds like something from David Gray and/or those in that piano-production model. The vocalist on the song even seems to style is voice like Gray. I’d be shocked if it wasn’t intentional. But the song itself has some lovely lyrics that are either about deep, true love, or seduction… not that those are mutually exclusive.

“Paper dove don’t worry… in your paper cage… cause paper love, though hurried… can be folded and unfolded.” This is the sweetest bitter song you’ve ever heard. “Paper Dove” is about a relationship having no tangible effect on a person. Obviously it’s thinly-veiled in the song that there are folds in the writer. But what a concept… and how well executed indeed. From the subtle acoustic guitar and piano to the sincerity of the lead vocal. It’s a brilliant outro to a beautiful album.

I would decidedly say I enjoy Side B better than the first. That said, both are delightful. They do different things for a variety of reasons and undoubtedly directed audiences. This would be a phenomenal band to see live. Before you rush off and do that, be sure to check out their bandcamp page and take a listen to these songs. I believe that Death Head Side B is a collection of four of the best songs I’ve heard in two years of covering the independent music scene. They are exquisite.

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