There are two very different contexts available for approaching How Ill Thy World Is Ordered. The first, and most likely, is that this is your introduction to Canadian singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and genre-pilgrim Daniel Romano – or perhaps you know his 2018 psychedelic folk album Finally Free, his earlier classic country albums, or his 2000s indie rock band Attack in Black and you’re checking what he’s up to now.
And then there’s the other context: How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is the tenth new release from Romano since this March. This glut of albums was quietly dumped onto Bandcamp without forewarning or press, leading to a small fanbase lucky enough to be on the mailing list to ask themselves “is this really happening?” These were no guitar-and-a-microphone home demos either—every release has been produced to the same standards as the rest of his discography, with each even following a unique stylistic lane, taking Romano’s ability to blend and shift genres from a yearly basis to a weekly one.
With this kind of background, where does How Ill Thy World Is Ordered, his first 2020 studio album with a press campaign and physical release, sit on this iceberg of music? As a gift to both newcomers and his dedicated inner circle, this is a very “Daniel Romano” album. Ever since he moved away from classic country with 2016’s Mosey and 2017’s Modern Pressure, Romano’s music has been marked by a running adoration for rock and pop trends spanning from the 60s to the 80s, sitting them alongside each other in a harmony so natural that you’d swear it sounds like a throwback to something – even though you can’t pin down exactly what – a trend he continues here.
On a surface level of songwriting and arrangement style, How Ill Thy World Is Ordered could serve as a sequel to Romano’s first surprise album drop of 2020, “Visions of the Higher Dream”. They’re his two most densely-arranged albums of the year, with songs throughout punctuated by both strings and horn sections, on top of the usual songwriting accompaniment.
Yet, on a closer level, How Ill Thy World Is Ordered secretly shares its closest kinship with March’s live album, “Okay Wow”. It was the debut of Romano’s backing band “Daniel Romano’s Outfit”, where, for a multi-instrumentalist who’s recorded the majority of his albums solo, the band displayed an electrifying synergy with him, infusing a decade’s songbook with a thrilling propulsion. With the success of that live album, it’s easy to understand why Romano and his band opted to recapture it for this new album, recording under the guidelines of “play the whole thing in sequence, three takes or bust, with no overdubs.”
It pays off. The energy is almost stealthy—the sweetness of Romano’s melodies (and some truly elating moments like “Green Eye-Shade”’s transition into “First Yoke”) can conceal just how driving this album is. Special mention is deserved for Daniel’s brother and former Attack in Black bandmate Ian Romano on drums, whose precise and complex fills complement his pounding forward momentum that’s so central to this album’s effect. The album doesn’t give away that it needs to take a breather until it finally takes one with its last track, the gentle and sweet-hearted “Amaretto and Coke”, a standout of Romano’s busy year.
It’s tempting to discuss this album as the end of a seven-month project. It very well could be—or, Romano could pop up with another album drop in some days’ time. That’s part of the fun of Romano’s last half-decade: there’s no predicting what genre he’ll take on next or how far his frightening productivity can go, and by delivering albums this spirited and melodically rich, with no signs of watering himself down when he’s already 10 releases deep in one year, Romano earns the trust to follow him anywhere.