Ten years into playing ska and radio-pop-punk for the masses, Daniel James (né Lohmeyer) apparently found the practice unsatisfying. Not that it was hard to notice. The end of the Sophomore Beat's run was punctuated by some of the most cynical and bitter material you're likely to come across in a relatively pop medium. It was like James alternately hated himself and everyone listening.
WAITING TO EVOLVE Daniel James.
Thus, a retrenchment. James blew up Sophomore Beat, holed up in his home studio, and produced the seven-song self-titled EP that will serve as his debut of the solo project Worried Well. It definitely sounds like a songwriter all kinds of up inside his own head.
"What am I, the only one left here," he sings on "The Last Survivor Of...," "with my plastic-coated fears?/I've spent years and years perfecting wasted talents for you here." He seems to be talking to himself as much as any girl or the world at large. It's the age-old existential question that accompanies many late-night sessions in college or mid-life crisis. "What's the point?"
Even the photographs and videos of himself that he's chosen to represent the project are uncomfortable to look at. James is an alright looking guy, really, but he's laid himself bare here, his eyes deep pools of unease, his head like a sunflower too heavy for the stalk holding it up. He kind of looks insane. Like Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs of New York.
That sense of being on the edge of complete disorder comes through in the recording, too. The percussion is usually just a tambourine. The guitar tone can be charming, but both it and the vocals can be really bright in the mix, spiking into the headphones. His inner turmoil is made audible. Palpable.
The result is often reminiscent of Colin Meloy doing pop-punk ballads. It's cerebral and interesting (I like the lyrics to the strutting "Sad Cells," especially, with their play on James's first name), but the anger and bitterness that comes through sometimes can leave you wanting to hang out with someone else.
Which is where James is, too. He'd like to step outside of himself. "Paranoia take me with you," he drawls in the balladic "A Monster Named Paranoia." "The next time you step out to ruin someone's life/Maybe then I'll see I'm not the only one alive/Who wonders what it's like to feel alive."
Clearly, this is not the end, but just the beginning of James's musical evolution.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.
WORRIED WELL | Released by Worried Well | with Pinsky | at Oak & the Ax, in Biddeford | Nov 15 | WorriedWell.bandcamp.com