Daniel Romano, “Too Hot To Sleep”
By Casey Jarman · February 26, 2024 Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

There’s some real cognitive dissonance that occurs when diving into Daniel Romano’s catalog. Each new incarnation of his music seems too convincing—too passionately realized, too itself—for the others to possibly exist. There’s the earnest young Romano who led a cult-favorite Canadian indie rock songwriting project, Attack In Black. There is the minimalist folk singer who recorded an album of traditionals with Frederick Squire and Julie Doiron in 2009. There’s the stone-faced country poet Romano, who released heartfelt honky-tonk ballads—often in full cowboy regalia—on the New West imprint. And there’s the psychedelic madman Romano, who two years ago dropped the thrilling, orchestral, prog-adjacent La Luna on his own You’ve Changed label. It’s an album containing a single, 30-minute song in 12 inter-referential movements and two halves. (Even madmen can show a little respect to the vinyl format, after all.)

There are other artists who can do this sort of shape-shifting, but it’s usually as a sort of winking party trick. Romano, on the other hand, is wide-eyed when describing his songwriting process, in part, calling it, “the mediator between the abstract head of creation and the bearer of individual consciousness.” Romano is no impressionist. He’s a true believer in creativity for creativity’s sake. He writes, records, plays, makes the album art, directs the music videos and runs the label (with a small circle of collaborators). He feels at home in, and perfectly in love with, any place the spirit moves him.

Lately, that spirit has been fast and loud. Daniel Romano Outfit’s latest album, Too Hot To Sleep, makes a mean first impression, a tight and relentless garage rock record with a nod toward forebearers like MC5 and The Stooges. Fast, harmony-fueled rock is not a particularly new direction for Romano. He and his younger brother Ian—whose intense and sometimes show-stealing drumming on Too Hot To Sleep suggests a loving sibling rivalry—grew up playing in punk bands together, and The Outfit’s dual live albums show off just how blistering this band can be (with multi-instrumentalists/vocalists Carson McHone and Julianna Riolino filling out three-part harmonies and offering no shortage of denim-clad swagger in concert). The most satisfyingly riff-forward cuts on Too Hot To Sleep—like the Stones-y opener “Steal My Kiss” and the Ramones-esque “Chatter”—could be filed away as mere hyper-competent garage rock, if not one’s immediate bag.

Romano, though, is too complex to be filed away. Deeper inspection of Too Hot To Sleep reveals a work that’s just as ambitious—if twice as fast-paced—as La Luna. In a lesser songwriter’s hands, “Where’s Paradise?” would be a song about quitting your job and hitting the road. Romano’s song, though, is a sort of call and response between the desire to escape and the utter impossibility of it. “Field of Ruins” makes strange bedfellows of caveman riffs and Romano’s philosophical musings on late-stage capitalism. “Too high are the heavens, too wild is the sea,” he sings. “I’m on the shore of a hungry dream, staring at a mystery.” The outro, which flows despite its origins in some alternate musical universe from the rest of the song, is one of many mysterious moments in this strange and singular discography that elicits downright awe.

The title track, “Too Hot To Sleep,” ponders the same question as much of the album: If these are really the end times, how should we behave? Romano seems to find multiple, sometimes conflicting answers. The thrashing “That’s Too Rich” suggests revenge, while the title track is illuminated by the prospect of mass protest. “Field of Ruins” finds Romano developing an aesthetic appreciation for decay. The lyrics of album-closer “Generation End” read like a rather matter-of-fact obituary for humanity. Still, some hope springs from the song’s harmonies and an unhinged organ solo. Is hope a precondition for creativity? Is it the other way around? There aren’t a lot of artists in any genre that provoke questions like this. Romano seems intent on doing it in all of them.

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