Since beginning as an art school final project over a decade ago, the oddball indie-rock family group Danielson, led by eldest brother of five Daniel Smith, has been rather difficult to explain.
That the ever-changing lineup has resisted a snap paraphrase is good a refresher in a sound-byte culture that loves figures it can quickly dilute but that doesn't make it any easier when a friend asks you what you are listening to.
First, there is what sounds like a helium-huffing Frank Black belting out oddly timed, oddly worded odes to the Creator with his family caroling along. The songs often sound jarring, like a gang of caffeinated kids hijacking all the bells and whistles from a high-school band room.
Then there are all those monikers: Records have been credited to Danielson, The Danielson Famile, Tri-Danielson and Br. Danielson.
Finally, there is the live show, in which Smith, his four younger siblings and/or whatever kindred soul has been around (most notably, Sufjan Stevens) wear handmade outfits. For a time, there were the nurses' uniforms, which were worn to symbolize the "healing" being done. Then, there was Daniel nestled inside a grade-school-play-like fruit tree, as he was "bearing the good fruit."
Over the phone, Smith admits that the long, strange road, what he calls his "very fluid conceptual music outlet," has confused even him at times. It took the recording of their latest album, Ships, he says, to resolve his focus.
"In a lot of ways, so much of Danielson has been about taking these songs that I get when I'm alone and sharing them with friends and loved ones," he says. "At the time, each record usually captures the season of who is around, you know, and whoever is around is therefore in the band. So it's been very much about relationships and creative relationships. So in this case, it was basically to try to bring everybody back in, and then some."
On Ships, Smith includes his siblings, Stevens, members of Deerhoof, Serena Maneesh and many more. What surfaces is a fuller sound than before, a kind of strangely shaped space rock that doesn't stay in one place long. Amazingly, Smith is able to coax the crowd into a spirited and cohesive sound.
For this tour, Danielson is donning new homespun outfits as well seemingly some kind of seafaring get-up, aimed at exploring and celebrating their newfound camaraderie.
"The concept of the uniform talks about community and it talks about service and things like that," says Smith. "So instead of it being directly symbolic, where the doctors and nurses were clearly about healing, this is much more about community."
And, from what started out as an East Coast cult band, mainly admired by New York intellectuals who loved the art rock but were squeamish about the Christianity (a topic that is explored in a recent bio pic, Danielson: A Family Movie), Smith and Co. are spreading their message wider. Once you fix your ears and eyes to it, you really see a celebration of the childlike creative spirit.
"I believe we are all just children," Smith says. "In the deepest part of ourselves, you know, in terms of loving to play and loving to be creative. I mean, eventually we do that once we're old, become like children again. But wouldn't it be nice if we could start the process now?"
Danielson with Wovenhand and The Wheel
Friday, June 9, 9 p.m.
hi-dive, 7 S. Broadway, Denver
Tickets: $8-$10, 21-plus; call 720/570-4500.