Review: Daisyhead, ‘The Smallest Light’
Ever since I heard the shimmery guitars and powerful drums on “Dishonest” from the Daisyhead / Have Mercy split released a year ago, I was hooked. I simply needed more of this ~until then~ unheard of band from Tennessee that completely owned a split with Have Mercy (?!), aka the band who put out one of my favorite albums of 2013. Add in the fact that they were slightly more hard-hitting and accessible, and we’ve got an instant winner. Come one year later, and who’s got the next debut album I’m most looking forward to? Daisyhead. Enter ‘The Smallest Light’, probably the first full length release of 2015 I was hyped about (sorry Title Fight). I scooped up the pre-order as soon as I could (on transparent yellow vinyl!) and impatiently awaited my promo copy to be delivered to my 36v inbox.
Debut albums are a tricky beast to tackle in their own right, and even more so when you’ve experienced success with past material. Only a meticulous artist could cope with the praise rushing head first and simultaneously 1-up all of those songs by releasing 11 or 12 amazing ones for a true debut. I couldn’t even name you one (somewhat) famous band who only released an extended play. Albums are the industry standard, and it makes sense – package and parse your emotions into dense songs with clever titles and perplexing artwork to release to the masses. Up to this point, Daisyhead have made their mark but now have to carefully cross the border into LP territory. Their career reminds me of Superheaven (then Daylight) and even more recently, Moose Blood. Both contemporaries built upon a solid EP and then crafted their own full length, each receiving high praise in the scene. The question is if Daisyhead will follow suit. Let’s put ‘The Smallest Light’ to the test.
Using a lesser-seen tactic of songwriting, all four members of Daisyhead each offered their own creative input on each track; building in a true cohesion among the very distinct songs. As Michael Roe (vocalist/guitarist) puts it: “The Smallest Light is a record with thoughts shared by each member of the band, which makes it so much more special.” The variation caused here is astounding, and is ultimately the record’s strongest attribute. Each song is equally as powerful as the next and this pays off in a big way. Not only that, but the album is structured as if it’s begging to be listened to front-to-back. It starts off in epic fashion with “Defenselessness” and flows from peak to trough all the way to the emotionally bitter “I Didn’t Deserve This.” They make excellent use of two scene-standard tropes: where the penultimate song slows things down a bit before ending with a banger AND they nestle an interlude before one of the best songs on the album, the title track “The Smallest Light.”
As an avid representative for the raw versatility of pedals and getting absolutely everything possible out of your guitar rig, hearing Daisyhead’s tone firsthand on their debut is roughly equivalent to a kid entering a candy store with $20 in their pocket. Except I’m a 21-year-old and the candy store is full of Orange amps, Telecasters, and Strymon pedals, but to me, it’s basically the same. Now, if only I could have $2000 in my pocket… Dreams aside, the tone is AMAZING. Props to Tate Mercer at Forty-One Fifteen studio in Nashville for a stellar job producing. The mix alternates from pristine and delicate to blaring and raw, highlighted excellently with polar opposites in “Defenselessness” and “Lead.” On the former we hear shades of intensity developing with the throat-clearing line “why do you always say the same thing?” while the latter brings a layer of polish and vibrato in the verses. “Take” literally straps the listener in with no warning and does not let go until the very end. Juxtaposed directly after is “East Bend,” a ballad-esque song about family and brotherhood, and shows a softer side to Daisyhead’s craft, while still maintaining their distinct style of emotional alt-rock.
I’d be doing a disservice to my fellow emo music lovers if I didn’t mention the beautifully grotesque nature of “Neck.” Clearly a song about someone who tragically took their life, the guys in Daisyhead carefully and tactfully deliver what I consider the best song of the year thus far. I feel absolutely awed being able to hear it before so many others and can only (humbly) allow you to listen for yourself. With the subject matter being so complex, I applaud them for “putting the feels” into words. “The Halt” provides a brief pause until it explodes into a riff comparable to last year’s “Dishonest,” while “The Smallest Light” borrows a similar riff from Superheaven’s “Hungry at a Funeral” but explores it in a new way that peels back on the grunge-y-ness and really shows off the unique songwriting ability. Bookending the album is “I Didn’t Deserve This” where we find our two vocalists asking “where do I go from here?” after a flawlessly performed fadeout/build-up. If it wasn’t already obvious, Daisyhead is certainly going places after this amazing debut; one-upping their previous EP’s and split with Have Mercy by a long shot.
Direct influences come straight from No Sleep’s backlog (as included in the RIYL), with Daisyhead taking a page out of Balance and Composure’s “Reflection” with the feedback-laden ending to “Neck” and sharing a vocal range with The Casket Lottery, specifically in the waning minutes of “I Didn’t Deserve This.” That being said, it wouldn’t be fair to simply make comparisons because Daisyhead are way more than the sum of their parts. Big things are coming in the future for these guys from Nashville, and No Sleep is backing them 100%. They fit quaintly on the label with just the right formula of aggressive / emo mix, complementing each side of themselves beautifully. ‘The Smallest Light’ finds a perfect duality between their heaviest and most ambient sides, and that is something very special. Do not sleep on this record (hehe, no sleep puns), but seriously! You’d be missing out on (debatably) the best release of early 2015. If there was any doubt of Daisyhead surpassing the expectations and hype with their debut album, let me be the first to tell you, they fucking rocked it. 5/5
RIYL: Superheaven, Balance and Composure, The Casket Lottery
Definitely check out: Defenselessness, Neck, Lead, Take
Shameless plug of lesser-known bands who sound similar: Forever Losing Sleep