Darn Floor – Big Bite Reissue
By Conrad Amenta | 7 February 2009
In the self-encapsulated world of my CMG output I consider this review lockstep with my recent consideration of Starflyer 59’s Dial M, my criticism of which found me jackpot deep in letters from incensed Christians, some who chose not to distinguish between my disapproval of a band’s application of blind faith to discographic themes and finger-wagging at Christianity-at-Large. Appropriate that Daniel Amos’ Darn Floor – Big Bite would arrive when it did. It is, in many ways, the product of a critical approach I wish Starflyer had been brave enough to take.
First confession: I’d never heard of Daniel Amos before the promo peeked out my mailbox. One look at the fops of ’80s hair and semi-ironic suit jackets and I admit I mistook it for another promotion company that didn’t bother to read CMG before mailing a client’s album. Even more unlikely, then, that it was the one-page bio that would excel at the function for which it was created and demand a closer listen. Check it out:
“For the better part of the 1970s, Daniel Amos (or DA) was the house band for mega-church Calvary Chapel’s Saturday Night test revivals.” Not a good start. But: DA front man Terry Taylor “quickly became bored with what he saw as the increasingly narrow conventions of gospel music. In 1981, he led the group on an abrupt—and commercially suicidal—change of course […]. Their fan base—shocked and disillusioned—abandoned the group, leaving a group that once played for thousands at tent revivals playing for tens in tiny clubs.” The narrative convention of the band whose artistic aims come to outweigh surefire commercial success is tried-and-true, definitely cliché, and partially mythological, which is why it’s such a tantalizingly good bedmate for the theological. Band transcends the material trappings of their daily existence, experiences epiphany, imposes moral order. Post-punk and Christianity are wedded by their break from a norm and supposition of integrity.
Darn Floor – Big Bite is not a stylistically superior record. In its best moments it’s an intentional ape of proto-XTC post-punk. The one-sheet, from which I’ve already quoted too much, alludes both to more successful acts like Gang of Four, Wire and Mission of Burma and to the fact that Darn Floor – Big Bite sold just 7000 copies on its release, all of which makes the exercise of this review a strange one. An unexceptional and unsuccessful post-punk album, probably undeserving by popular standards of the loving reissue it’s just received from Arrco, is not generally the stuff of extended deliberation so much as a potential oddity for completists’ catalogues. Which explains the double rating you see up there: as a post-punk record it has none of the politics, frenetic energy, or aesthetic scope of Gang of Four, Mission of Burma, or XTC—hence the 40—but there’s that back story begging someone, even if it be someone on the far-flung peripheries of online music journalism, to acknowledge that moment of artistic bravery from which so many Christian bands decide, again and again, to abstain. Hence the 70. I bestow my middling approval as if by glorious host from on high.
It’s not that Daniel Amos transcends Christian music’s arbitrarily revelatory perspective, either. On “Safety Net” Taylor sings “You’re going to call me a liar / when I try to tell you what’s coming down,” and the easy jab is to point out the condescension at play. That is until one realizes that that same condescension is one employed by the fundamental politicking of post-punk. A side-by-side comparison of Gang of Four’s Jon King’s nasal accusations and Taylor’s decidedly apocalyptic bent reveal similar judgment triggers, though Taylor filters post-punk’s inherent superiority complex via Christian dogma in a fascinating and seamless way, as if he were completely unaware of the symbiosis between style and ideology and simply affected it. Elsewhere, the pseudo-New Age of “Divine Instant” suggests, with surprisingly non-linear positivism, “In this divine instant / we are time standing still.” The lyric book is conveniently packaged with explanations of what each of these admittedly simple songs is about—“Divine Instant,” for example, is “a celebration of sex as God’s holy gift and one of the greatest he has given his children” which I have to admit is one of the more refreshing thoughts on faith to have been uttered by a Christian within my earshot. The hybridization of sex and faith—the appeal of communion, the sense of taboo—is as obvious and natural a partnership as post-punk and Christianity.
It’s difficult to give too much credit to an artist who moved past the boundaries of a genre to explore art in a way that, ultimately, is similar to other, less constrained styles, or to acknowledge that Daniel Amos simply decided to move from playing one type of music that was popular at the time to another. Some credit is due, nonetheless, for the parting thought on the lyrics back cover, and ultimately what elevates this otherwise forgettable footnote in Christian rock history, is this simple, elegant caption:
Man: Describe an earthquake
Gorilla: (sign language) Darn floor – big bite
God: Describe Me
Man: A Roaring Lion and a Consuming Fire
I’m left with the impression that Daniel Amos suggest a humility with which few Christian artists act in front of their audiences. It is the essence of modesty to exit the pre-approved confines of a well-established style (and one as self-affirming as a giant gospel tent, no less). In another booklet piece, essayist Tom Gulotta concludes “After doing some careful reading […] they came to the controversial conclusion that what the human race doesn’t know about God is greater than what it does know.” That summation of their problematic relationship with both the divine and the system of language used to describe it renders oppositional post-punk the perfect mode with which to express an inherent dissatisfaction, an alienation that subsequently gestated these years and became document of that rare specimen: the venturesome Christian musician.