Music Review: DANIEL AMOS – Vox Humana

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daniel amos vox humanaDANIEL AMOS
Vox Humana
Refuge Records
1984

It’s funny what you tend to run into at local small town thrift stores. For instance, I was looking around a small second-hand thrift store in a town called Oakland here in Nebraska, and among the odds and ends and various other nick-knacks abounding, I spotted in a box of stuff a CD copy of Daniel Amos’ sixth release, Vox Humana, which I purchased for a mere $.50. For those curious, this was the 1992 CD release from Refuge Records, as previously the album was only released on LP and cassette formats. Pretty good condition, nary a scratch on it. The cover booklet was what you would call bare bones, but I really couldn’t complain.

Anyway, Vox Humana, compared to the preceding two releases, is more of an electronic synthesizer-driven New Wave album, with flourishes of the kind of musical creativity that you would come to expect from Daniel Amos. I wonder if they chose the more synthetic style of instrumentation here as a kind of commentary on the plastic-ness of the culture at the time of the early-to-mid 1980s. Or, maybe I’m just reading too much into something that wasn’t the intention. I tend to do that sometimes. As such, though, this results in Vox Humana not exactly being a frequent player in my album list.

Don’t get me wrong, as a New Wave album, Vox Humana is a good, solid release. Things kick off with “Travelog”, a bit of a dark, mid-paced tune with a driving beat and a spacey feel to it. This is followed by “(It’s The Eighties, So Where’s Our) Rocket Packs”, the structure of which reminds me strongly of The Buggle’s song “Video Killed The Radio Star”. One thing I’ll give this album, the songs at least maintain the varying structures and craft that Daniel Amos excels at, like with the plastic calypso of “Home Permanent”, the quirky rockabilly of “It’s Sick”, and the driving punkish “Dance Stop”, which is a popular crowd participation song when played live, I’m told. “Live And Let Live” has great Beatles-esque melodies and a psychedelic vibe, whereas the followup to that is the skipable ballad “When Worlds Collide”. “As the World Turns”, “She’s All Heart” and “The Incredible Shrinking Man” all maintain the catchy pop hooks. The album ends with one of my all-time favorite songs, “Sanctuary”, kind of a dark, almost 80s Gothic style song that always gets me in the feels.

As I mentioned, Vox Humana is a good, solid release from Daniel Amos; it’s just that I’m not necessarily in the mood for New Wave as much to listen to this one too frequently. There are some cuts on here that I do enjoy more than others. The production of my copy, which I presume was from the original mix that Refuge put out, is decent, if a bit thin at times. In 2016, Stunt Records released a remastered two-disc special edition, so if you’re wanting to check this out, I would try and get that one.

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Music Review: DANIEL AMOS – Doppelganger

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daniel amos doppelgangerDANIEL AMOS
Doppelganger
Alarma Records
1983

Daniel Amos’ fifth release continues the overall Alarma Chronicles concept, something that I still have no idea what the story itself entails. But, at least the second part itself, Doppelganger, is a rather good entry in the series. Also, it’s a great classic New Wave record in its own right, methinks.

Having a bit of a darker tone than that of the previous release, Doppelganger nonetheless manages to maintain the high quality musicianship and writing, putting out a very detailed and multi-textured album, filled with some of the best writing going as well as showcasing the bent sense of humor the band was famous for. If that wasn’t evident by the album cover–a slightly unsettling monochrome image of a mannequin–then you’re not paying attention.

The album itself kicks off with a brief yet mind-twisting intro “Hollow Man”, played backwards with spoken words and an avant-garde bent, which leads into the first proper cut of the album, “Mall (All Over The World)”, which is an infectious and dark New Wave cut with a funky bass hook that will get into your head like none other, there. “Real Girls”, “Memory Lane”, and “I Didn’t Build It For Me” feature that kind of New Wave style, yes; but like with their previous releases, the band branched off into other styles while keeping things unmistakably their own: “New Car!” has a cool rockabilly style, almost psycho-billy in a way before that became a thing; “Do Big Boys Cry?” isn’t necessarily a ballad, but it comes close; “Youth With A Machine” and “Little Crosses” are guitar-driven with some good hooks, while “The Double” and “Angels Tuck You In” are more janglepop, with the later having a classic Elvis Costello vibe to it. “Distance And Direction” has a Caribbean vibe to it that reminds me of another song from that time, the title of which escapes me greatly; “Autographs For The Sick” is another avant-garde tongue-in-cheek spoken word bit over ambient played music; the final song, “Here I Am”, has a very Beatles-esque somber-brite quality that just burrows down into your brain and will have you whistling it absently long after the record ends on the second part of the “Hollow Man” intro.

So, as I’m coming to understand the further I look into the Daniel Amos discography, you can’t just casually throw on a Daniel Amos record in the background and leave it; Doppelganger as an ablum begs to be listened to, closely, to take in the various textures and layers and lyrical play melded together into a whole. The production is fantastic, and you can tell a lot of time and careful crafting went into the making of this. I’m just now beginning to realize why the band ranks so high on everyone’s list of influential Christian bands. This release comes highly recommended.