A blissed out, The White Album-by-way-of-The-Flying-Burrito-Brothers gem.
Nostalgia does funny things to the mind. In art it’s just as likely to romanticize as it is to create something that never existed. A certain hippy self-aggrandizement that demands acknowledgement that music went downhill after ’69 and died around ’77 is as false as it is baffling. But there’s a bounty to be found from this delusion of grandeur. Blitzen Trapper has always imagined an alternative path where Dylan became a full-blown rock star, Tame Impala, pre-Gaga days, doled out pastoral sounds of John Lennon backed by Zeppelin’s muscle and Kadhja Bonet thought Karen Carpenter always deserved a Mo-Town backing back.
Where Daniel Romano falls into all this is unclear. The Canadian singer holds a dedication to tape hiss and vinyl pops, but he’s delivered it all with a surreal smile. He’s either playing an excellent joke, or really was teleported out of an alternate dimension where the LSD was much, much stronger. Though he was brought up in the punk scene, he quickly transitioned to a psychedelic, Spaghetti Western sound. He’s kept that hardcore energy; Finally Free was the third in a trio of records he released in 2018. But there’s no wear or tear on the curtain call; Finally Free is a blissed out, The White Album-by-way-of-The-Flying-Burrito-Brothers gem.
Lyrics like “I’m liberated in the language of love” float in and out of earshot. Like an infinitely less paranoid version of Of Montreal, Romano is cozy in his hallucinations. Though some of the arrangements can be dusty and stark (opener “Empty Husk”), much of the album is velvety plush. Guitars spin in from the left and right channels haphazardly, Congo drums bumping lazily in the background and Romano’s sleepy yowl sinking into the comforting morass. “Have You Arrival,” in spite of its war on grammar, is a huggable jaunt, that sounds like holding hands as the world slowly dissolves into incomprehensible symbols (or as he puts it “In drunken fields of melting gold”). The melody here is James Taylor-levels of worryingly catchy, leaning heavily on old folk tunes or even Rodgers and Hammerstein snippets.
There is, admittedly, plenty of “what the hell are you on about Dan?” If you make a song called “Celestial Mantis” we’re all allowed at least a double take. But there’s something deeply welcoming about Finally Free that it’s difficult not to simply bob up and down on these cosmic waves. “God is but a song embracing God/ Song is but a God embracing song” is the album’s closing sentiment on the shimmering “There’s Beauty in the Vibrant Form.” Even more so than the dangerous duality of drugs and nostalgia, Romano seems to be breathtaken by art itself. It’s a wonderous sentiment, and it flows through every ebb of the album, until his own beaming smile is impossible to ignore. Even the instruments themselves are giddy; just listen to that joyous blossom of organ on “The Long Mirror of Time” and deny it.
So, saddle up space cowboy, and get some nostalgia for a world that never was.