For the past four years, Daniel Markham has been establishing himself as a serious artist in DFW. Disintegrator is the third of a trio of albums in that span and another stone Markham has laid in a musical career that continues to impress. It validates Markham’s status as an excellent songwriter and serves as a marker of a promising trajectory.
Markham’s 2013 release, Ruined My Life, was a sobering self-analysis through the analogy of rock and roll by way of a query. Where do we figure in a world where our affectations fall into irrelevance, particularly when those affectations might have contained bits of our selves? The follow up, Pretty Bitchin’, was Markham giving himself over to that rock and roll, unconcerned of whether he was dabbling in obsolescence.
But Markham can never entirely cut ballast and that’s what makes him such a compelling artist. In his self-analysis, he is always digging a little deeper and bringing back what he finds. In any vehicle except music that kind of solipsism is paralyzing. But this is what the best of popular music does: exposit the existentially inscrutable through the conduit of melodic hooks. It’s what the best artists do, the thing we can’t. In an age where the social currency is being unrelentingly certain, Markham meets us behind the veil at our most insecure.
Markham is part of that Denton collective that gave us RTB2, Hares on the Mountain, Satans of Soft Rock, ad infinitum. It is a largely provincial and under-appreciated consortium that writes, records and performs some of the best music in DFW. That crew is well-represented on Disintegrator as Markham’s backing band. The album gleams with musical polish and proficiency without compromising any of its approachability.
As with the last two albums, Disintegrator is a model of restraint. Markham is a man of wide ranging musical interests, as evinced by his industrial death metal alter ego Larry Legion. But his pop sensibilities are sharper than even those fangs. Disintegrator finds Markham at his most prudent, a calculated and comforting dispenser of pathos who imparts without pandering or coddling.
The album opens on a contemplative, ambling note. Muted grooves shore up bright, catchy odes to love and nostalgia, often knotted into one pensive thought. “Zelda” is a standout; Markham playing the love-struck introspect. “House of Death” is built on one of the album’s best riffs. What catches one’s notice on Disintegrator is how each song stops short, sometimes just as it has gained momentum. These thumbnails proceed at a mosey’s pace for the first half of Disintegrator. Individual listeners may come to divergent conclusions as to whether Markham’s gait and brevity are aimless or by design. But the maturity of his themes – of filial piety, self awareness, mortality – and the excellence of production mandate the latter.
The closing half of Disintegrator is where Markham finds stasis. The edifying “Late” is Daniel at his best, playing the fool for listeners’ sake. Immediately following is “Lover,” a satisfying amalgam of time-honored Country and Stax Records. Markham is a musical gourmand and savvy composer. This can get overlooked because what he does is so palatable, but it shouldn’t. “Show Me What You Got” is more of Markham’s best: restrained, shrewed, catchy as hell. Like an Alex Chilton gem, it is just a tuneful swipe at the simple idea of taking the right woman home, but probably a condensed thesis on the universe. “I’ve been chasing…running round again.” It is the epic of glory through the cheap, beaded curtains of the ordinary.
Disintegrator represents the third in a progression of albums that are establishing Markham as a consistent, prolific artist. Ruined My Life is a personal favorite, but it is hard to select a superior among the three. Each shows Markham maturing in a particular way as a songwriter and arranger. That’s a feat given that he’s been making music for a solid decade now and shows no sign of waning. Perhaps more than any recent work, Disintegrator, sounds like Markham dabbling in increasingly divergent styles, striving to knit them together into one ideal form. I can’t shake the conviction that Markham is a talented visionary whose best work is still ahead of him.