Click on a title to read select reviews:
Review by Mark Suppanz of The Big Takeover Magazine (Issue #66, Spring 2010)
On his fourth album, this Chicago-based troubadour and ex-Pindrops frontman serves up another nourishing helping of stylish indie rock with pinches of classical seasonings, playing most everything himself. Outside of the opening guitar workout “Look at Me,” and the bouncy, electro-poppy “Take It Back,” his mood is quieter and more introspective. He’s also nostalgic, reworking two songs from 2006’s debut Neon and Gold, “Vante Left Them Human” and “Fell,” in an unplugged form with Emanuel Ban’s spirited violin accompaniment, and providing a new vocal take for “I Want to Be” (previously sung by guest Robin Morgan on 2007’s Culture of Self). Despite his aching and despondent lyrics, varied songs such as the sweeping, orchestral “Go Away,” Django Reinhardt-inspired “Morceau,” and piano-driven “Fever” ensure the LP is another unqualified winner.
Review by Jon Worley at Aiding & Abetting (April 2010)
This album has quite possibly the worst cover in history. The thumbnail doesn’t do it justice. Luckily, I know Dan Wallace and I know that what lies inside is so much better than any cover.
Wallace tends to shift his musical focus from album to album. Everything connects to atmospheric rock at some point, but he’s wandered off on roots trails and even gotten a little punky at times. This outing finds him settling into lush (or at least full) arrangements and tightly-crafted songs decorated by the occasional tangent.
But, of course, eclecticism rules. Wallace never fails to surprise, and I’ve always liked the inventive nature of his music. He has a fascinating approach to melody (rarely straightforward), and he sometimes uses rhythm as an idea separate from the rest of the song. That’s even cooler than you might think.
Once I’ve reviewed an artist a few times, I often get a little bored. Even the best can settle into a rhythm and coast a bit. While Wallace might have coasted on the cover (sorry, I just had to say it), he still goes at his music full bore. Still amazing after all these years.
Review by Bert Saraco at The Phantom Tollbooth (May 2010)
The fourth outing by Dan Wallace, Den of Maniacs, reinforces the artist’s steadfast dedication to his particular vision – his Culture of Self, if you will (to borrow the phrase from a previous album). Possessing all of the tools needed for crossover success -– the ability to write songs with hooks, a flexible vocal range, and all of the required rock and roll musical chops – Wallace instead walks a musical road less traveled, and a bizarrely picturesque road it is.
In somewhat of a surprise move, Wallace starts the album off with one of the most immediately accessible tracks he’s ever done –- the hard-rock (mock-rock?) “Look at Me,” which asks, “hey you there look at me / tell me, tell me, help me – tell me what you see / am i the same man i used to be? different, changed, or in between? / am i soft now or too extreme? / tell me tell me help me tell me what you see…” The song seems to give the average rock & roll consumer what he wants to hear on a surface level while at the same time asking why he wants to hear it – Wallace shows us, for the moment, a rock star persona with thundering drums, pounding bass and fiery guitar solos, all supporting questions posed in his Ray Collins style falsetto vocal, as if to illustrate the fact that all might not be exactly as it seems.
The rock star facade falls away with the second track, where we begin to hear more typically adventurous music with the sweetly macabre sounding “Go Away,” a rock carnival waltz featuring some complex guitar work under wonderfully-arranged vocal melody and back-up harmony interplay.
Wallace has a distinctive sound, primarily featuring a variety of keyboard effects, his wonderful guitar playing, compositions that are irresistibly melodic and full of surprising twists and turns, and his immediately identifiable vocals. A multi-instrumentalist, Wallace essentially plays everything you hear on the album, with a brief assist from George Lawler on drums (“Look at Me,” and “Go Away”) and Emanuel Ban on violin (“ Vante Left Them Human” and “Fell”).
To say that this music is unusual would be an understatement. “Spiders in Heaven” starts out sounding like Django and The Hot Club of France in Dante’s Inferno, “Fell (For two Musicians and a Computer)” ends up with a Sufjan Stevens-like crescendo, and the wonderfully complex “I Want to Be (Ensemble Version)” is, in parts, reminiscent of Frank Zappa’s “Uncle Meat.” Keeping those comparisons in mind, the fact that Wallace occasionally seems to channel Brian Wilson (perhaps a demented Brian Wilson – or is that redundant?) is quite interesting (one track actually starts with the words, “God only knows…”).
Lyrically, Wallace is fairly obscure, but always compelling, writing in a poetic form more often than creating a linear narrative – from “Fever,” the last song on the CD:
what’s one more dusty faith clutched closer in the maze
whose walls are portrait lined?
it’s not fine, it’s a fever spreading like tar
it’s a fever dripping down from above …
Always interesting, sometimes challenging, undeniably memorable, Den of Maniacs shows Dan Wallace in a slightly more accessible mode, but still as intriguing as ever. You don’t have to be a maniac to like this, but it helps.
Review by Roland Leicht at World of Prog-Music (April 2010)
Bereits die dritte Scheibe ist ‘Den Of Maniacs’, die ich von dem Songwriter Dan Wallace aus Chicago auf meiner Homepage besprechen darf. War die erste CD noch ein bißchen chaotisch und die zweite CD dann schon ein bißchen eingängiger, ist ‘Den Of Maniacs’ noch leichter verdaulich geworden. Wieder hat Dan Wallace fast alle Instrumente selber eingespielt (wobei vor allem mal wieder seine fette Gitarre positiv auffällt) und nur bei 2 Songs hat George Lawler an den Drums ausgeholfen (wie auch schon beim Vorgänger ‘Reattachment’) sowie jetzt neu Emanuel Ban, der auf 2 anderen Songs Violine spielt. Der Opener ‘Look At Me’ haut schon richtig fett rein und erinnert stimmlich sogar mal wieder ein bißchen an Wallace’s Vorbild Frank Zappa. ‘Go Away’ ist dann etwas ruhiger, fast süß :-). ‘Vante Left Them Human (Revamped) ist hochinteressant nur mit akustischer Gitarre und der oben genannten Violine (ziemlich gut gemacht). ‘Take It Back’ ist dann fast ein Pop-Song (zumindest am Anfang und immer mal wieder zwischendurch) mit mehrstimmigem Gesang. Auch hier muss ich unweigerlich ein bißchen an Frank Zappa denken, der auch ab und zu solche Ideen hatte. ‘Morceau’ könnte fast ein französischer Chanson sein (absolut witzig gemacht … akustische Gitarre, der typisch französische Rhythmus und sogar ein paar eingestreute französische Worte). Echt erstaunlich, was für Ideen Dan Wallace so hat, ist er doch weit weg von Frankreich. Aber da sieht man mal, was ein genialer und kreativer Musiker alles aus der Feder zaubert. ‘The Gift’ könnte fast als Weihnachtslied durchgehen (‘Christmas Time will be here soon, now that november is half the way through … um mal die erste Zeile des Songs zu zitieren). Auch wieder nur akustische Gitarre und wunderschön gesungen. ‘Spiders In Heaven’ ist auch wieder ein bißchen französich angehaucht … richtig gut. ‘I Want To Be’ klingt fast ein bißchen nach Beatles (obwohl ich die ja gar nicht leiden kann, ist der Song richtig witzig). ‘Fell (For Two Musicians and a Computer)’ fängt auch recht gemächlich an, wird aber gegen Ende richtig fett (mit tollem Synthie-Einsatz und endlich mal wieder einer fetten Gitarre). Die CD endet leider viel zu schnell mit ‘Fever’, einem Song nur mit Gesang und Piano. Mit ‘Den Of Maniacs’ hat Dan Wallace mal wieder eine hochinteressante CD abgeliefert, die auf jeden Fall nicht in meinem CD-Regal verstauben wird. Bei so vielen Ideen die Dan Wallace hat, freue ich mich schon auf den nächsten Output.
Review by David Mead in American Songwriter Magazine (Sept/Oct 2008 Issue)
Dan Wallace wastes no time proclaiming his aural affection for a few different strains of guitar goddery on Reattachment (Torito Bravo). The album’s melodies slide over and around beds of ax triumph that effortlessly recall the best of Robert Quine’s latter work with Matthew Sweet. Wallace is tasteful with his indulgences, however; in fact, it is downright refreshing to hear some 32nd note trilling in the context of such songs as the title track and the elegant, Django Reinhardt stylings of “Odd Man Out”. It must be assumed that this is quite a treat to witness live, with Wallace’s supple fingerwork providing all the pyrotechnics necessary.
Review by AJJ at Glaswerk.co.uk (August 2008)
The music industry is a cold and heartless beast, or as Hunter S. Thompson put it, “A cruel and shallow money trench…” Now without taking that quote out of its original context (Thompson actually uses it to glorify the music trade) for the purpose of this review, I include it to highlight the importance of people like Dan Wallace. A man that proves it’s not all about crack, lawyers, leeches, pimps and preachers.
Dan Wallace is an enigma in the modern music world. An anomaly of strange and wonderful sorts that makes you realise it’s not all bad (or good, as Thompson would twist you into believing.)
Standing like a beacon in an ocean-sized swamp, Wallace embodies not only the sound of wild and rumbustuous past generations, he surrounds it in a spirit and aura of independence. What is there to respect anymore if not independence? Out there somewhere in Chicago where the sun beats down on the wind and burns the streets like magic magma and dust covers the invisible pain of bad trips on the great lake, there is a sound that doesn’t quite flow. A sound as distant from the location as it is from its time.
Reattachment is pop sugar from a sperm whale’s blowhole, it’s funky melodrama and twisted irony, and an almost lazy rhythm ‘n’ blues. With a tidy gloss like prehistoric amber-coated fossil this post-modern organism is the 2008 vintage homebrew right out of an Illinois wine cellar.
Now, I’m talking collectively rather than track specifically. It doesn’t matter to me if you buy Reattachment, Culture of Self or Neon and Gold. They’re all special pieces of work as far as I’m concerned and they don’t sound all that different from each other. If per chance say you listen to Dungen, The Shins, The Eels and Zappa then add this man to your collection of unerring folk pop music.
Dan Wallace sends out his music personally because he specifically wants you to hear it. He even signs the cover letters himself. Crackers, I know, but it’s the little things that make the difference nowadays from the pits of this “cruel and shallow money trench”.
Review by Bert Saraco at The Phantom Tollbooth (August 2008)
Dan Wallace has managed to do it again.
Repeating his success but not retracing his musical steps, Wallace gives us “Reattachment”, the follow-up to last year’s eclectic and mesmerizing “Culture of Self” album. Self-revelatory without becoming self-indulgent, “Reattachment” reveals Wallace’s brilliance as a rock composer and instrumentalist as well as his gift for writing and delivering obscure but intriguing lyrics. As has been his pattern, Dan Wallace has once again produced an original album not designed for the mainstream or the musically squeamish.
The opening track, “Reattachment,” is a moody, moderate-tempo track that begins with an exquisite burst of guitar work over a bed of bass, acoustic guitar and drums, followed shortly by the introduction of Wallace’s vocals. The over-all effect is like Jack Bruce channeling David Bowie’s Commander Tom as Wallace sings harmony parts separated by at least an octave, the near-falsetto lead part dominating and lending an air of ‘lost-ness’ to the lyric. An MRI scan of Wallace’s brain is used in the CD cover art (by Vesna Jovanovic), and emphasizes the fact that Wallace is inviting us into his deepest observances, disappointments, confusions and conclusions about life up to this point.
Like on “Culture of Self”, Wallace treats us to some instrumental pieces on “Reattachment”. “South of Heaven” is a delightful waltz featuring Dan on acoustic guitars and multi-tracked vocals, “Brittle Tongues” is a short guitar piece with a slightly oriental flavor, and “Elegy” is an elegant acoustic guitar composition featuring dazzling finger work and a classical/jazz/flamenco approach that results in slightly more than four minutes of guitar-lovers’ heaven. Although Wallace’s background in chamber music is evident even in the rock compositions, it becomes even more noticeable in his solo guitar moments like this one.
Introduced by a barrage of drums, “Invisible Lines” displays Wallace’s amazing use of melody, time changes and interesting chord progressions, as he effortlessly creates perfect musical sense out of dissonance, melodic leaps and carnival-like tempo changes. Behind all of this is Wallace’s amazing guitar, bass, synth, hand drum and vocal skill. As a singer, Wallace has great range and a vulnerable, unaffected style: able to slip in and out of falsetto parts, and possessing a natural vibrato at the end of a phrase, Wallace’s voice falls somewhere between Brian Wilson and Dan Hicks (speaking of Dan Hicks – “Odd Man Out,” with its Django-esqe guitar licks and frantic pace, sounds tailor-made for Hicks and his Hot Licks!).
“Spellbound,” for its surreal and disturbing lyrics (“…razor in the right hand / drugs in the milk / these surreal amnesia dreams / slinking through guilt labyrinthine …”) is a progressive art-pop tour-de-force, with Wallace at his most appealingly off-beat Beach Boys-meet-Todd Rundgren mode, throwing in a stunning jazz-pop section near the end. It’s ‘out there’ enough to make it a challenging listen, and engaging enough to capture all but the dullest of ears.
Reattachment is full of good moments, such as the Zappa-like guitar solo on “Go Ahead,” and the surprisingly straight-forward love song, “Easy Come Easy Go,” which closes the album on a non-threatening, gentle note. This eclectic project is not without its poignant moments, one of which comes on the haunting “Thanks For the People,” where Wallace asks: “if I am nothing, what does that make you? / if you are nothing, what does that make me? / thank you for tearing me apart here today / You don’t have to, I don’t ask you / you do it anyway…” Still, he ends with the words, “Thank you for hearing.”
Thanks, Dan Wallace, for giving us so much to hear.
Review by Jon Worley at Aiding & Abetting (August 2008)
I’ve been impressed by Wallace’s work for years. One of my favorite things about him is that he doesn’t stand still. He’s equally adept in the worlds of pop, rock, blues and country, and he often melds them in interesting ways. The title track (and first song) is a great spacey piece. The second song takes a great blues lick and turns it into an intricate rocker. And so it goes.
I do believe that Wallace has gained confidence over the years. His early stuff was simpler, or at least, he didn’t try to incorporate as many different ideas in a single song. He not only blenderizes just about every song on this album, he does so with a style and grace that is almost unthinkable.
One of the more interesting things I noticed on a couple tracks here was a definite Steve Miller influence. The good Steve Miller, the bluesman who threw some stellar guitar work into 70s rock and created a handful of the greatest rock and roll songs of all time. Wallace refuses to dumb down his ideas, which means that his songs never quite reach Miller’s epochal middle-of-the-road sound, but there are hints of what might be.
Plenty of other hints as well, such as the occasional Reinhardtian guitar run and such. Indeed, the most impressive thing about Wallace’s music is his guitar work. But his increasingly complex and stirring songwriting is catching up. This is his strongest work to date. And I don’t hear any reason why he’d be falling off any time in the near future.
Review by Mark Suppanz in The Big Takeover Magazine (Issue #63, Winter 2008)
This restless composer-turned-songwriter (formerly co-Director of the Chicago Chamber Music Collective) seems eager to make up for lost time since his band The Pindrops broke up in 2004. This is now his third solo album in three years, following Neon and Gold and Culture of Self. As before, he employs traditional rock instruments, playing most of them himself, while subtly infusing more wide-ranging, eclectic styles, like classical waltzes, jazz-tinged flamenco, and Zappa-inspired blues folk – you can even detect an underlying Radiohead influence, as on “27”. Meanwhile, Wallace gracefully croons his introspective, esoteric lyrics in an almost stream-of-consciousness manner, in a voice that hints of Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright, and on the contemplative “Spellbound,” Brian Wilson. Once again, he’s managed to turn out another intriguing, idiosyncratic, and involving work.
Review by Roland Leicht at World of Prog-Music (September 2008)
Von dem amerikanischen Songwriter Dan Wallace habe ich letztes Jahr schon das Vorgänger-Album ‘Culture Of Self’ besprochen. Ein hochinteressantes Album am Rande des Rock, das vor allem ein bißchen an Frank Zappa erinnerte. Jetzt gibt es mit ‘Reattachment’ einen neuen Output. Und ich muss sagen, dass diese CD eindeutig leichter zu verdauen ist. Teilweise richtig schöne Melodien (z.B. der Song ‘South Of Heaven’), die so richtig flockig und fröhlich runtergehen wie Öl. Solche Seiten waren auf dem Vorgänger-Album noch nicht zu hören. Aber auch das zappaeske kommt nicht zu kurz (‘Invisible Lines’, um nur mal einen Song zu nennen). Insgesamt ist Dan Wallace aber melodischer geworden, ohne auch nur eine Sekunde langweilig zu klingen. Dan Wallace spielt ja alle Instrumente selbst (nur auf ein paar Stücken wird er von Schlagzeuger George Lawler unterstützt) und ich möchte vor allem sein Gitarrenspiel hervorheben, das sich vor Szene-Größen nicht verstecken braucht. Klar ist auch ‘Reattachment’ nicht wirklich leichte Kost und es braucht schon ein paar Hördurchgänge, bis sich die einzelnen Songs erschließen (auch wenn sie mit so zwischen 3 und 6 Minuten nicht wirklich lang und kompliziert sind). Doch lohnt sich wirklich der Zeitaufwand, um in die Musik richtig einzutauchen. Musikliebhaber die auch abseits des Prog ein Ohr riskieren, sollten Dan Wallace auf jeden Fall mal antesten.
Review by Michael Mee for Americana UK, October 2007
Put simply, Culture Of Self is about daring to be different, and the magic that comes when you do. Even if it were only half as good as it is, it should be treasured for its originality alone.
Quite rightly the spectre of Frank Zappa is summoned because, like Zappa, Dan Wallace doesn’t see things in quite the same way as we mere mortals. Culture Of Self is also a glorious reminder of a golden age when more care was put into the ‘building’ of an album as the marketing of it.
No doubt the non-linear approach that Wallace has taken will infuriate as many as it delights, anything as theatrical and surreal as this is bound to divide opinion. In music only the bland unites and this is anything but bland.
It will help if you let your mind run as free as Dan Wallace’s obviously did, Culture of Self is a kaleidoscope of sounds, written in big bold colours, best just to run with it. However, a lack of any true reference point makes it almost impossible to sum up, it is what it is, rock music at its surreal, imaginative best.
In the end it doesn’t matter what you call Culture Of Self, it’s the ideas that it challenges and stimulates that are important. Maybe the key lies in surrendering yourself to the wonderland created by the fevered brow of Dan Wallace, an artist in its truest sense.
Review by Bert Saraco for The Phantom Tollbooth (August 27, 2007)
There’s a bottom line to good music.
When you strip away the production tricks, the synthesizers, the studio embellishments, the samples, and the cornucopia of digital manipulations, the bottom line is this: is there a song there? Is there a human being reaching through the fire-wall of commercial sameness, plucking something original from the creative side, and taking the chance that somewhere the music will resonate in the soul of a listener? We usually call it ‘stepping outside the box,’ and that’s what Dan Wallace does on his new release, Culture of Self.
It’s not so much that Wallace has broken new musical territory, but he’s created a project using sounds as diverse as acoustic jazz, rock, pop, and even operetta to produce fresh sounding, human music. The pop sounds are refreshingly simple and the rock has a bold cutting edge to it, but underneath it all is a complexity of thought and structure that isn’t obvious until you’re well into the project. This is music by an artist whose sound owes as much to Sufjan Stevens and Todd Rundgren as it does to his unlikely pair of stated major influences: Dmitri Shostakovich and Frank Zappa. This is not your typical pop album…
Opening and closing the CD are two instrumental pieces: the first, “Counting,” is a short, atmospheric musical footbridge into the unexplored aural territory ahead, and the closing track, “Counting Backwards,” is an ambitious piece of orchestrated music, featuring Wallace on guitar, organ and piano, strings played by Emanuel Ban (violin and viola), Grace Hong on Oboe, and George Lawler on drums. The total effect, complex enough to incorporate surprising musical episodes within its structure, remains warmly human and intimate, much like the loosely-assembled group work of the afore-mentioned Sufjan Stevens. The piece is small and big at the same time, melancholy and exciting, tag-teaming woodwinds and strings against a rock and roll band – and it all works.
Between the opening and closing tracks you’ll find the basics of a really good pop/rock album. Wallace’s vocals are fragile-sounding (just enough) but versatile, and show surprising range, as in the first vocal track, “The Heap” – a song that typifies the surprising aspects of Wallace’s pop work, being what I’d call “eclectic psycho-pop” with an edge. The songs are catchy, with some real hooks, and often feature unexpected explosions of rock, and even jazz, sensibilities (the instrumental portion of this song is a good example of how Wallace can tear a good guitar solo right through your speakers). The fourth track of this surprising CD features Wallace accompanying an unexpected female vocalist, Robin Morgan (offering a surprisingly ‘straight’ soprano performance), on “I Want to Be” – a song that would not sound out of place as a minor number in Les Miserables, if not for the frantic piano section in the middle. “Perfect Weather For a Superhero” and “The Low Road” return to a more conventional pop format, with Wallace showing considerable skills as a lead and background-harmony vocalist – the songs also feature a strong rock style to give the pop aspects some bite, and Wallace’s excellent work on the acoustic, as well as the electric, guitar.
“Heap Variation” is another instrumental, placed almost in the center of the project, and features, (mostly) two guitars interweaving, fugue-like, through an intricate melody. The piece lasts just under a minute, and recalls the short instrumental bits that Frank Zappa inserted into his classic Uncle Meat album – It’s a stunning 56 seconds full of precise, rapid guitar interplay and unusual melody. Three tracks later, “Insomnia,” with its loose structure, has unexpected moments that punctuate the mood, like the blast of rock in the middle, and the sophisticated band passages at the end. Perhaps the most surprising track (for me) is the remaining instrumental, “Bound to be Free,” which sounds like a song Django Reinhardt would have written for Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks. This might be the most surprising, impressive minute and forty seconds on the entire album.
Wallace’s lyrics are, like his music, somewhat enigmatic and puzzling, if you look too closely. Like an abstract painting, or poetry, shadows of meaning from the lyrics emerge unexpectedly, when you’re not looking for them. In “The Heap,” Wallace writes: ‘…sometimes we have to go where everyone is, or at least where everyone’s been…’Lucky for us, on Culture of Self, Dan Wallace has gone where most artists haven’t been. He’s found that bottom line: there are real songs here.
Review by Ant Standring for Glasswerk.co.uk (August 16, 2007)
Last year saw the release of Dan Wallace’s cleverly crafted debut LP ‘Neon & Gold’ which was met by a love it or hate it audience. He’s back with his more profound and sometimes tumultuous follow up ‘Culture of Self’, an LP we at Glasswerk have been looking forward to hearing and to ‘picking the bones out of’ as it were!
Presented in a lavish looking and lyric coated tri-fold sleeve that depicts anything from crystal ball snow shakers to artery and vein-like tree branches, this album is as much of a quandary on the outer as it is within. And that’s no surprise considering DW boasts of influences that range from Shostakovich to Zappa! Let’s get on with it then, I can’t wait any more!
Opening the LP with what I feel is a cunningly albeit brief, preparatory instrumental track, DW hints at what is to intermittently follow, adjusting the listeners expectations as he surrenders to his susceptibility of classical composure, a side that is frequently and refreshingly revisited throughout. DWs vocal range and fluidity are matched effortlessly, only by his slinky instrumentation, mirroring a latter day Radiohead here and a sorely missed (on my part at least) Garlic there.
Constantly shifting from unpredictable arrangements and unexpected carnival-esque tangents, to barely recognisable moments echoing a ‘Dry’ era PJ Harvey, a Peeping Tom demeanour and certain Gomez ditties to more blatant sources of inspiration (surely), notably, anything from typical Kurt Weill, The Doors ‘Spanish Caravan and Beck’s ‘Tropicalia’.
This LP epitomises opulence in the writing and recording process of an album. Revisiting tracks and tweaking the construct, meddling with the melody and challenging any obvious approach to a track and its righteous path, DW and his music are as smart and imaginative as you like! So many elements are wondrous; the dually layered vocals, the pleasantly invasive strings and the coy yet immediate delivery, all entwined with an overall subtle complexity that adds extra magic to this LP.
And I’m not done yet!! Did I mention how awesome the lyrics are? They really shine for me. Thankfully and I feel necessarily included in the packaging for close inspection, the quirks that make up seven eighths of DWs genius can all be found within for every fellow wordsmith out there to relish. So if he’s so good, why haven’t we heard of him you might well ask! What can I say, I’m not the musical taste police am I, maybe the world just isn’t prepared for DW yet! But I implore you to investigate because every moment that goes by without recognition of this LP and the talent that created it, is a criminal moment. OOHHH!
Review by Brian Swirsky for The Big Takeover Magazine (Issue No 61)
Right on the heels of his appealing 2006 debut album Neon and Gold comes this Chicago-based troubadour’s follow-up, and he’s crafted another good one. Wallace’s velvety, slightly high-pitched voice still recalls a less-dramatic Rufus Wainwright or Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon, with a little of Gene’s Martin Rossiter (especially on “The Heap”). He occasionally indulges his classical influences, as on the LP’s bookended set pieces “Counting” and “Counting Backwards” (with oboe/violin/viola courtesy of Emanuel Ban and Grace Hong), and his Chopin/Bach-like piano backing Robin Morgan’s operatic lead on “I Want to Be.” But mostly, he employs traditional rock instrumentation (guitars, keys, hand drums) to create highly engaging pop compositions like “Perfect Weather for a Superhero” and “Insomnia,” which are all infused with Wallace’s inimitable, theatrical flair and mysterious, poetic lyrics.
Review by Coe Douglas for www.coedouglas.org (August 30, 2007)
Dan Wallace has a new CD and it’s absolutely amazing. In fact, I’d argue that it’s without a doubt his most creative effort yet.
Part of what makes Dan’s music so great is his ability to pull in a broad range of subtle musical influences and turn them into something no one has ever heard before. The result is a sort of cutting edge familiarity.
As for the songs, Culture of Self packs lots of punch. He opens with “Counting” a musical interlude that takes the mind on a bit of an aural journey only to give way to “Heap” another textured offering that builds and grows from vulnerable to soaring all while featuring Dan’s impressive vocal range and unique style.
The CD is filled with musical gems, including personal favorites “Low Road,” “Perfect Weather For A Superhero” and “Capsule.” Throughout the disc there are a wealth of unexpected moments from the atypical arrangements to the instrumentation, which is most on display with Dan’s guitar playing. Here he repeatedly teases us with his chops on songs like the previously mentioned “Heap” and “Perfect Weather For A Superhero.”
This isn’t a safe record. It takes chances and sticks its neck out. But this is precisely what makes it so remarkable. This is where pop and rock should be going as a genre.
Dan Wallace challenges his listeners. And as a listener, I sincerely appreciate this. In fact, as his popularity has grown, he’s bucked the trend to simplify and sellout, instead opting to create an even more abstract offering of songs that once they get inside your head will echo for a long time.
Review by Jon Worley for Aiding & Abbeting (September 2007)
I liked Wallace’s last album, and this one sounds awfully good to me as well. Wallace is an ambitious songwriter, penning pieces all over the spectrum. There’s often a folksy or rootsy undercurrent, but he’s quite willing to move past first influences to paint a more complete picture. I like his pastiche approach. It gives his songs that extra shimmer. Another one well done.
Review by Roland Leicht for Prog-Rock.info (August 16, 2007)
Als Betreiber einer Musik-Homepage ist immer wieder schön, unbekannte Künstler kennen zu lernen. Und so ging es mir auch mit Dan Wallace, der mir seine neue CD ‘Culture Of Self’ für eine Review zur Verfügung gestellt hat. Dan Wallace kommt aus Chicago und die vorliegende Scheibe ist bereits sein zweiter Output als Musiker. Meine Recherchen im Internet haben ergeben, dass das Debüt-Werk mit Namen ‘Neon And Gold’ doch viele positive Kritiken … vor allem natürlich in den USA … bekommen hat. Einsortiert wurde die CD unter Indie-Pop (so bei CD-Baby beschrieben). Mag sein, ich kenne die CD ja nicht, aber ‘Culture Of Self’ ist sicher kein Indie-Pop. Mich erinnert’s ein ganz klein wenig an die CDs von ‘Heartscore’ (siehe meine Reviews), ohne auch nur halbwegs so ‘schräg’ zu sein. Trotzdem ist es doch irgendwie nicht wirklich einsortierbar. Dan Wallace wurde vor allem von Dimitri Shostakovich (einem russischen Komponisten aus Sankt Petersburg – 1906 – 1975) und … Achtung … Frank Zappa beeinflusst. Nette Mischung würde ich sagen. Aber kommt schon irgendwie hin. Zwischen Beatles (‘z.B. Song 2 ‘The Heap’), klassischer Arie mit Flügel-Begleitung (Song 4 ‘I Want To Be’ mit den weiblichen Vocals von Robin Morgan) bis zu spanischen akustischen Gitarren (Song 6 ‘The Low Road’) ist alles vertreten. So dass die Nähe zu Frank Zappa doch nicht so ganz abwegig ist. Die CD erschließt sich sicherlich erst nach mehrfachem Hören und verwöhnte Prog-Ohren werden damit wahrscheinlich eher ihre Schwierigkeiten haben. Aber aufgeschlossene Musik-Liebhaber, die auch mal einen Blick an den Rand der Rock-Musik werfen, sollten Dan Wallace mal antesten.
Review by Rafael Garcia for 34th Street Magazine (August 1, 2007)
It’s always gratifying to discover a talented, yet little-known, musician. Dan Wallace provides such a thrill with his fine-tuned indie pop. Playing in the clubs of Chicago for some years now, Wallace has earned a group of devoted fans, and it’s time for that group to expand.
On Culture of Self, the artist’s second solo release, Dan Wallace’s versatile , unique singing voice carries his meaningful lyrics and songcraft. Every track on the release is well-written and meaningful. The upbeat “The Heap,” for example, employs tempo changes and strong guitar solos to create a dynamic listening experience. Even the album’s transitional and instrumental tracks portray a refreshing experimentalism, ranging as they do from mournful pieces reminiscent of the Dirty Three to upbeat Spanish-influenced efforts.
Though all of the tracks on the album are strong, one of the better ones would be “Perfect Weather for a Superhero.” The song’s philosophical lyrics convey a compelling message about human guilt, faith, and what it means to be a hero. Elsewhere on the album, “The Low Road” is a haunting acoustic venture exploring the abuses of organized religion. Instrumental flourishes and ghastly backup vocals flesh out this incisive look at mankind.
Despite some errors in album flow and song length, Culture of Self proves itself worthy of investigation. Dan Wallace draws together his wide range of influences to create a sound that’s hard to define, but easy to enjoy. Fans of artists as diverse as Elliott Smith and The Fiery Furnaces should respond well to his inventive and endearing take on music.
Performing Songwriter Magazine, Top 12 DIY Pick by Mare Wakefield, Jul/Aug 2006
Singing with the same suave whine that made you fall in love with Morrissey, Chicago-based artist Dan Wallace waxes poetic on his latest release, Neon and Gold. Rocking drums and multiple electric guitars contrast nicely with Wallace’s dreamy lyrics. “I fell upon a face tattooed in bronze / It had an air of grace, knee-deep in sin,” he sings in “Fell.” Stacked harmonies and classical guitar decorate “Ladies, Gentlemen,” while “Too Soon” carries a chaotic, circus-like air as Wallace pounds out dissonant chords on the piano while singing of illicit bargains and rebirth.
It would be too easy just to categorize the entire album as avant-garde, but there’s definitely something innovative about Neon and Gold. Maybe it’s the neo-psychedelic arrangements, the Alice-in-Wonderland lyrics or the smooth-as-silk delivery. Maybe we should listen again.
The Big Takeover Magazine (Issue 58), by Mark Suppanz, May 2006
This Chicago-based songwriter/composer and frontman for The Pindrops (he’s also scored music for theatre and film) has drawn apt comparisons to Rufus Wainwright and Ben Folds, mostly due to his music’s unconventional song structures, whimsical lyrics, and a flair for the dramatic. Wallace prefers using traditional rock instrumentation for his waltz/cabaret-like compositions, peppering them with keyboard, organ, hand drums, and Elisabeth Johnson’s sporadic violin. On the more rocking tracks such as “Fell”, “Too Soon”, and “Vante Left Them Human”, Wallace’s debonair voice resembles a less melodramatic version of Gene’s Martin Rossiter. Elswhere, his slower acoustic songs really recall Wainwright, with hints of Divine Comedy (he also does a credible Brian Wilson imitation on “Pindrop”). It’s hard not to fall for this intoxicating and expertly-crafted LP.
*Sixeyes, by Alan Williamson, May 09, 2006
How did I come across this guy, Dan Wallace? He has some fantastic music here on his album, Neon and Gold, music which is different enough to my ears to cause them to prick up and familiar enough to slip into those well worn ruts in my musical taste. Chicago based Wallace has a fondness for minor chord sadness and his voice is well suited to it… here’s an example:
+fell +jacques +too soon +maybe
This is not your typical sounding indie boy, but this is imaginative and intelligent music… someone was thinking when they made it and that will get you thinking.
Illionois Entertainer, by Mike O’Cull, Jun 2006
Chicago-based songwriter Dan Wallace mixes indie and surrealist influences with pop on his latest CD, Neon And Gold. His goal is to retain passion and sincerity while blending a wide range of influences, and he mostly succeeds. His music is not mainstream pop by any means, but has a certain nervous charm that should appeal to the slightly left-leaners out there.
Americana-Uk.com, by A. Riggs, Mar 2006
Mixing innovative music styles, with a heady range of influences from Ben Folds, Todd Rundgren, Beach Boys, Richard Thompson & Eels – Dan has stretched himself on these fourteen songs (55 minutes). The record starts off strongly with the catchy pop of ‘Fell’ – the sequencing of the songs works well, which keeps the listener’s attention throughout. With clever lyrics and an ear for a good melody Dan treats his audience to a pot pourri of songs. Dan even has the confidence to put an instrumental interlude in, with ‘Sonatina’ where he demonstrates his dexterity on acoustic guitar. Lyrically on ‘Homage’ Dan handles the slings and arrows of fame – ‘she’s a hostage to his laughter, he’s the needle at her hip’….’they’ve got the sweetest smile you’d ever hope to see, they’ve got the sweetest lives that anyone could lead’ – finishing off the song with a fine guitar solo.
The strength of this record and innovative style only reveal themselves after several listens – when Dan’s ‘Neon & Gold’ reveals much of it’s treasure. A fine debut.
Luna Kafe, by Havard Kloften, Jul 2006
Former Pindrops frontman Dan Wallace is a Chicago-based songwriter/composer who makes his debut with Neon and Gold. And some debut it is. Wallaces music has a wide range of influences, which makes this album a colourful compilation of different “indie-pop/rock/neo-psychedelia” songs.
The more up-tempo tunes here, like the opener “Fell” and “Maybe” can be compared to fellow American pop magician Ben Folds – but one can also hear elements of early 80-ish artists like Wire and their followers like Franz Ferdinand, Rakes among (too) many others. Inbetween these songs are a number of more minimalist tunes – even ballads and instrumentals: “Ladies, Gentlemen”, “Before We Sleep”, “Sonatina”. These are of a more timeless kind, underlined by the overall use of classical guitar and instruments like hand drums, violin and oboe (actually keyboard, but whatever…). Here you can hear elements of artists like Cardinal/Eric Matthews, Rufus Wainwright and even Shins in their more sophisticated moments.
Most of all, however, Dan Wallace sounds as himself. The orchestration and arrangements are full of neat surprises, and the fourteen songs, in all their difference, are beautifully put together as a perfectly balanced unit. I very rarely have the patience to listen to an album of 55 minutes without taking a listening break. “Neon and Gold” makes an exception. Well done, Danny-boy!
HighBias.com by Deirdre Walsh, May 2006
Neon and Gold, the dark indie pop record by Dan Wallace, is reminiscent of a local carnival at night. “Ladies and Gentleman” will take you on a creepy carousel ride up and down the musical mystery of “noone,” while “Back of my Mind” is like the salt and pepper shaker—shaky. The most commendable aspect of this album is the song flow. The tempos vary and keep the listener entertained for the entire hour. Fans of the Dresden Dolls, Ben Kweller and Rufus Wainwright should check out this Chicago-based composer.
Aiding & Abetting, Mar 2006
Wallace takes the “everything is more” approach to roots rock. There are minimalist ballads, dense acoustic prog pieces, pretty bits enlivened by electronic paintings and, well, more.
Each song is built around the vocal melody with guitar of some sort (generally both acoustic and electric), but past that all bets are off. Wallace also incorporates a good amount of piano and keyboard, and he likes to cram a lot of notes into small spaces–kinda like Frank Zappa writing a prairie opera.
Or a more acoustic version of the Dixie Dregs. Or (much) less bombastic Kansas. The funny thing is that Wallace has just as much grand ambition as all the folks I mentioned, but he’s more willing to restrain himself in service of the song. Which makes his work that much more listenable.
He’s still one idiosyncratic puppy, to be sure. Wallace will always take the road less taken, though he’s careful to line it with rose petals. That consideration for the listener is what makes this album such a simple pleasure to hear.
By Roland Garcia for 34th Street Magazine, Feb 2006:
Dan Wallace’s Neon and Gold is an insightful, somewhat personal indie pop album that will resonate easily with most listeners. Wallace’s honey-coated, slightly mournful baritone is his best asset, as it combines the deep, powerful tones of a Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age) with the versatility and range that any singer-songwriter needs to succeed. Neon and Gold proves to be refreshingly unconventional while remaining entirely within accessible bounds. The lively “Homage” marries masterful guitar experimentation with Wallace’s always-precocious lyrics (“everybody leaves before they learn to stay/everybody cheats before they learn to pay”). “Vante Left Them Human” outdoes Ben Folds at his own act, while “Maybe”’s gleefully bouncy pop-rock riffs would uplift anyone’s day. Dan Wallace’s unique take on indie pop is sure to shine.
Smother Magazine, Editor’s Pick by J-Sin, Mar 2006:
Bobbing and weaving his way through a myriad of punchy indie-pop tunes, Dan Wallace finds himself cornered into writing a tremendously catchy and yet intriguing album. As wildly creative as Radiohead or Rufus Wainwright, and as poppy as Ben Folds, Mr. Wallace is also an accomplished musician lending his unique voice, guitar, bass, hand percussion, and keyboard skills to the mixture. Great songwriting is one part music and two parts lyrics to me and Dan nails each and every one with the accuracy of an Olympian.
Pucknation.com, by G. Bailey, Apr 2006
Dan Wallace, who in the past has written music for film and theatre, and fronted The Pindrops, has released his newest album, Neon And Gold on Torito Bravo Records.
Neon And Gold is a rarity of an album, in that though it can be compared to other music, it is not easily categorized. The music is indie rock with some strong pop and folksy singer-songwriter elements to it. The songs cover the spectrum from Ben Foldsy piano numbers like “Vante Left Them Human,” to rockers like “Maybe,” which features a great guitar hook and an awesome solo.
Wallace has a good baritone voice, but in a bit of a quirky way; at times Wallace sounds like Scott Weiland on his 12 Bar Blues solo album. The album features well-written, fairly catchy lyrics, such as on “Maybe:” “We will escape the living rooms, riding away on magic brooms/ Some things may never change but I’m not to blame/ Maybe you’re the crazy one they sing of/ Hey, I can deal with that.”
Overall: An original, well-played album. On top of being an accomplished musician Dan Wallace looks like Chris Elliot’s longhaired twin brother…not that that has anything to do with anything.
PaperCutsWebzine, by Eric H., Nov 2006
Dan Wallace nous vient de Chicago. Musicien accompli et songwriter de talent, il vient de sortir son premier album ‘Neon And Gold’. Voilà pour les présentations.
Parlons peu parlons bien: l’album pourrait être le fantastique croisement entre le stoner des Queens Of The Stone Age et la pop des Beatles. Chaque morceau a son propre univers de ‘Fell’ – le tube en puissance – à ‘Jacques’ joyau pop aux harmonies vocales et arpèges délicats en passant par l’instrumental ‘Sonatina’, Dan Wallace excèle dans tous les styles (saturés, acoustiques, pop, jazz, …).
Son timbre de voix s’adapte à merveille à toutes les audaces. Ce ‘Neon And Gold’ est une véritable réussite et contient de nombreuses surprises qui feront que jamais vous ne vous ennuierez à son écoute.
Vraiment le seul hic sera de réussir à se procurer cette galette sur le vieux continent…
IndieRockMag.com, by Luc, Apr 2006
Restait-il une place entre Neil Hannon et Rufus Wainwright? Oui, Dan Wallace l’a trouvé, et bien plus grande qu’on ne la croyait.
Vous vous attendez bien évidemment à m’entendre parler de ce que j’appelle pop de chambre (chamber pop) ou de ce que certains appellent pop baroque. Et bien non. Parlons plutôt de Dan Wallace sur fond de Neon And Gold.
Vous auriez habité Chicago, peut-être auriez vous fait sa connaissance comme co-directeur du Chicago Chamber Music Collective. Ceci expliquerait donc la présence de l’unique instrumental de l’album, Sonatina. Ira-t-on jusqu’à causer musique classique dans ces colonnes, je ne sais pas, en attendant, ma ferveur pop rock ne m’empêche nullement d’apprécier ce morceau magnifique, qui s’enchaîne parfaitement avec Homage. Le passage de témoin entre l’acoustique et l’électrique fait merveille. D’autant plus que ce homage nous emmène dans une envolée pop de grande facture.
Donc, Dan Wallace, qui a côtoyé le monde de la musique classique, est fan d’opéra et notamment de Bizet. Il ne serait pas français, ce Georges là ? L’occasion rêver de vous parler de Jacques, le frère. Tout le monde connait, Frère Jacques, fameuse ritournelle de notre enfance. Et bien le Jacques de Neon And Gold ferait fureur dans les boites à musique de nos bambins. Quelques accords entêtants et délicats, mâtinés à deux ou trois reprises de psychédélisme à la Cardinal , le groupe de Richard Davies et Eric Matthews, font de ce morceau un classique avant l’heure. On retrouve également un titre in french Le Néant, mais toujours chanté en anglais. Et pourtant, il m’a avoué parler Français, apprécier le cinéma francophone et nombre de nos artistes (Gainsbourg et Brassens notamment pour les textes).
Vous allez me dire, on ne cause pas beaucoup de l’album avec tout ça. Soit. De toute façon, dès le premier morceau, Fell, on part dans une pop accrocheuse. S’ensuit un Too Soon aux accents jazzy. The Lizard And The Cat laisse entrevoir les fantômes mélancoliques de David Bowie et Richard Butler. Alors voilà, on la tient, la force de cet album. Chaque chanson est portée par sa différence. Chaque intonation dans la voix sait se grimer pour coller à l’esprit du morceau. L’ensemble est pourtant étonnamment cohérent, fichtrement arrangé. A partir de là, tout est possible. On ne peut connaître la suite, mais c’est certain, il pourra se permettre toutes les excentricités. En attendant, on a ce Neon And Gold à découvrir, et dieu sait comme il est particulièrement riche et passionnant de finesse.
Radio City Discos, Apr 2006
RadioCity apadrina uno de esos debuts que hacen preguntarte dónde estaba este tipo hasta ahora. Hermosas y elaboradas melodías pop. Muy alto andará en nuestras listas. Conexiones: Todd Rundgren, Jason Falkner, Archer Prewitt.
Islas de Robinson, by Luis, Apr 2006
Uno de los descubrimientos de la temporada; no mío, sino de nuevo a cargo de “Radio City”. Éste es un disco complicado en el mejor de los sentidos. Tiene 3 ó 4 ganchos melódicos de esos que te atrapan en la primera escucha y te hacen pensar que tienes el disco “controlado”. Después lo vas poniendo y ves que hay mucho más aparte de esos aciertos melódicos. Dan Wallace combina un montón de influencias, pero siempre a su manera, de forma bastante original, evitando la senda fácil, pero sin perderse en el camino. Así, las canciones te van retando en cada nueva escucha; sabes que está ahí, que hay algo especial de verdad que confirmará tus mejores augurios, surgidos nada más ver esa bonita e inquietante portada; ese disco autoeditado tan bien cuidado. Y sí, ahí está; no tarda en surgir esa magia artesanal del mejor Pop actual; elaborado y cerebral, pero al mismo tiempo, sencillo en apariencia y ejecutado con toda el alma. Al final acabas descubriendo que ni esos ganchos melódicos eran tan sencillos (más bien monumentales) ni el resto del disco tan distinto de ellos… Todo acaba encajando entre una atmósfera de tonos agridulces, inundada de cierta melancolía propia de los Kinks, en un continuo y apasionante vaivén que recuerda a los mejores momentos de los discos de Jason Falkner. Un gran disco.
Heaven Magazine, by Kees van Wee, Jul/Aug 2006
Eigenzinnige, Brits klinkende Amerikaan
‘Try Whistling This’, gaf Neil Finn ooit als titel aan een cd, om te illustreren dat zijn liedjes lang niet zo eenvoudig in elkaar zitten als sommigen denken. Het had ook de titel kunnen zijn van deze plaat, want in een groot deel van zijn songs zoekt Dan Wallace noten op die je niet verwacht, zonder dat het gekunsteld wordt. Hij komt uit Chicago, maar het zijn vooral Engelse artiesten waaraan hij doet denken. Wallace laveert ergens tussen de ontspannen, pastorale folkpop van John Cunningham en de verontrustende rock van Radiohead. Hij wordt geassisteerd door een drummer en er is een incidentele bijdrage van een violiste maar verder bespeelt hij alle instrumenten zelf. Verwacht echter geen gefröbel, want dit is een rijp klinkende cd van een hoogst eigenzinnige man, die vooral als zanger en gitarist (akoestisch en elektrisch) indruk maakt. Een heel aparte cd, die even moet groeien, maar dan een regelrechte aanrader blijkt te zijn voor wie houdt van tegendraadse songwriters, gestoken in een fraai uitklapbaar hoesje en te beluisteren bij cdbaby.com (evenals de titelloze cd van the Pindrops, de band waarvan hij deel uitmaakte).
Martyrs’, September 16, 2008 – The evening concluded with a short set by multi-instrumentalist and new new-wave composer Dan Wallace. Dan’s smart and playful compositions are loose pop songs that walk the line between organic and computational. Listeners are nearly whisked away by Wallace’s warm rounded vocals, his soft guitar, and the assortment of string and wind instruments, only to be jarred wide-eyed and mouth agape by sudden hectic polyrhythms, a staccato mandolin-like guitar interjection, a vintage 1980s guitar shred, or any other unexpected and complex progressive rock borrowing. While comparisons are cheap, summing up all of the sounds and moods of Wallace would be nearly impossible. So instead, I offer you this: imagine Wallace as the intersection of Andrew Bird and Frank Zappa.
As a frontman, Wallace was quiet, and only spoke to introduce his current band (a foursome comprised of a bassist, drummer, violinist, and a player who provided both flute and clarinet). Only drummer George Lawler played from memory; each of the other three musicians worked from sheet music to meet the demands of Wallace’s vision. After only thirty minutes (the shortest set of the night) Wallace announced the band’s final song, choosing to close with “Invisible Lines” from his most recent CD Reattachment. The track, like the rest of his work, is beautiful in its complexity and equally as complex in its beauty. This song, if for no other reason, made me glad that I had not continued on to the lake. — Review by S. Sowder at TooMuchRock.com