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Is and Always Was

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iTunes Review

Is and Always Was finds Daniel Johnston venturing far beyond his lo-fi beginnings. In these tracks, producer Jason Falkner taps into his past experience as a Paul McCartney sideman to apply a wide array of ‘60s- and ‘70s-influenced sonic textures. While the surfaces here may seem new and shiny, the psychic struggles that have defined Johnston’s work for 30 years are still present. His battle with his inner demons remains an ongoing war, veering between temporary victories (“Without You”) and harrowing stalemates (“Tears”). Johnston can sound spiteful at times (as on “High Horse”), but he’s equally capable of bittersweet nostalgic tunes like “Queenie the Doggie” (a tune enhanced by Falkner’s country-tinged backup). A big, swirling remake of “I Had Lost My Mind” offers a link to Johnston’s early work. At times, Daniel’s quavering vocals are nearly overwhelmed by the arrangements, but tunes like the tender closing track “Light of Day” make up for any intimacy missing elsewhere.

Customer Reviews


The first time I watched the 2006 documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston, I knew that I had been missing something terribly special. How could my parents have been so inconsiderate? How could I not have been born in time to hear this man live in his prime, to have been able to drive down to Austin in my '78 Gremlin or something similarly honorable? It was also the closest a documentary has come to making me cry, but that's another story. That touching biopic ended with Daniel lovingly and detachedly standing over his parents, who were sitting in chairs on their lawn. Their fears? That they would die soon and Daniel would be left alone with nobody to care for him. Let's get something straight, to let that happen would be a sin that the entirety of American society would share the collective guilt for. It it would be a crushing defeat for the urkunstler that is Daniel Johnston. For you Teutonophobes out there, that translates roughly to "primal artist." Because that's just what Daniel is, he's the musician in rawest form. The complex processes which are refined into artists as wide ranging as Britney Spears and My Robot Friend are Daniel Johnston. Daniel Johnston is not outsider music, Daniel Johnston is not good music, Daniel Johnston is music.

Besides showing where my allegiances lie, those last couple sentences present a serious problem for Daniel's new album, Is and Always Was. If you've read anything else about this album, you'll know that Jason Faulkner has produced it. If you haven't, read on, I'll explain. Jason Faulkner is a highly accomplished producer who has worked with such (not so) minor names as AIR, Beck, and Paul McCartney, at least these seem to be the artists chosen by pretty much anybody who's talking about him. Let's not get anything wrong, the first two are some of my all-time favorites, but for all Beck's eclectic posing, its pretty clear that poor Mr. Faulkner hasn't ever had anyone quite like Mr. Johnston to deal with.

So what's the result?

The result is an album that sounds an awful lot like AIR, Beck, and instrumental Paul McCartney, but with Johnston's grating voice sailing above it. Of course, this isn't a bad thing, oh no, not by any means. The album sounds wonderful, it is all the heart-moving power of the instrumentals with a painful kick in the soul by way of Daniel's vocals. If Daniel is to embody anything besides music, it is obviously unrequited love, and he delivers in this album. The difference, is that instead of his old recordings, which sounded like tortured Valentines Day cards, their low-fi mumblings agonizing but harmless, some of the new songs sound like rainbow-colored skywritings of love or megaphone messages of devotion outside girls' houses. Its not difficult to find Johnston's true love Laurie slipping in and out of the words...sort of like Casper, you know?

Highlights include the title track "Is and Always Was" (think about that megaphone), "Mind Moves", the staggering "Light of Day," "Lost in My Infinite Memory," which shamelessly embodies that AIR/Beck fusion in its instrumentals, and the track that doesn't sound the best by any means, but strikes me as the most Daniel of all the songs, "Without You." At any rate, if love is troubling you, here's an album for the centuries. If not, well I hate to break it to you, but you don't exist.


Great Album!

This album is amazing! I'm so glad that Daniel's new music is finally released.


Awesome to see Daniel Johnston back with NEW music. The songs rock and sound good with the full studio treatment.


Born: January 22, 1961 in Sacramento, CA

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

As with other talented but troubled artists such as Syd Barrett, Brian Wilson, and Roky Erickson, Daniel Johnston fights a daily battle with the chronic mental illness that has plagued him nearly his entire life. However, despite recurrent bouts of delusional behavior wherein he has physically endangered himself and others, Johnston has carved out a respectable, influential career as a singer/songwriter of extraordinary talent who has grown since his first crudely recorded cassette was released in...
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