One of the great bands of Christian Rock was the groundbreaking band Daniel Amos. This was the first album after their critically acclaimed “Alarma Chronicles”. There was no drop off in quality in this release and now it finds a surprising if not long overdue re-issue on Arena Rock Records. e music has the song The Unattainable Earth for free.
The Unattainable Earth
A full review from J. Edward Keyes:
Full disclosure: I am not an objective reviewer — I am the Executive Producer/Project Co-Ordinator on this reissue. Here’s why I thought this record was worth reissuing:
In 1989, I walked into a Christian record store in Sayville, New York with a clutch of used Stryper, Carman and Petra tapes and a mission to better myself musically. Having been raised in a religious family, my musical choices were limited to whatever arena rock pabulum was being foisted on me by various youth pastors and the occasional odd Smiths album I could sneak without my parents noticing. At a certain point I became convinced that there had to be religious music that didn’t suck, and so my plan was to trade in my bad Jesus music for something a little more challenging.
The cassette I left with that day, Daniel Amos’ Darn Floor — Big Bite was, from its first few notes, utterly baffling. A weird, jittery collection of nervous new wave, the album contained no huge hooks, no stacked-harmony choruses and — most notable to me at the time, no Capitalized Masculine Pronouns. A little digging gave me some backstory: Daniel Amos was a hugely popular Southern Gospel group in the late ’70s, leading tent revival services for hippies who’d decided to follow Jesus — no turning back, no turning back. The band sold stacks and stacks of records and regularly packed out Southern California’s Calvary Chapel, an honor Daniel Amos frontman Terry Taylor would later describe to me as “the equivalent of selling out Madison Square Garden every weekend for a month.” Over time, though, they became disillusioned of the pat phrasings and turn-or-burn message being presented to new converts, and so they turned on a dime. In 1981, Daniel Amos released Alarma!, a strange, bleak record of angular post-punk that stunned their following and reduced their audience to the low triple digits. It’s a bold instance of art-over-commerce if ever there was one, a band choosing to follow their muse rather than to follow the money.
The result, of course, is that Daniel Amos became even more marginalized. When Darn Floor — Big Bite was released in 1987 it sold 7,000 copies, a paltry number even by Christian music standards. It fell almost immediately out-of-print, with the few scant CD copies fetching in the low hundreds on eBay.
Three years ago, I got the wild idea that this record should be reissued. Not only is it one of my favorite records of all-time, it seemed aggravating to me that bands like Mission of Burma and the Germs and Nick Drake had the opportunity to have their catalogs reappraised but, because Daniel Amos existed on the fringes of the fringes, they were routinely ignored. The story of how Darn Floor — Big Bite went from a vault in Southern California to record stores and online retailers isn’t all that interesting. What matters, as always, is the music. What stands out to me about Darn Floor, 21 years after its initial release, is what always stood out: how the music pulls off some weird hybrid of Robert Wyatt and Brian Wilson, matching weird, loopy verses with huge, aching choruses. “The Unattainable Earth” is dizzying and majestic, a single spiraling guitar line whirling over and over and over, spinning the song into a towering refrain. “Divine Instant” is like prototype Pixies, a glassy-eyed surf number interrupted by fits of electric guitar and hefting ominous lyrics like “I see the clock on the wall/ I see the skull beneath the skin.” Two decades on, Darn Floor — Big Bite still sounds utterly bizarre, like some kind of warped Martian new wave.
What also stands out is the timelessness of topics: “Return of the Beat Menace” takes to task conservatives who use fear as a weapon, manipulating the flock into submission by railing against the menace of popular culture (“He’s meeting all your strange requirements/ He thinks you can’t be fooled/ He’ll keep the rules and laws and sacraments/ By sending checks to you”). The title track compares a gorilla’s attempt to describe an earthquake with man’s inability to explain the unexplainable. “Pictures of the Gone World” is a cross-eyed lament for a slowly eroding environment. Needless to say, an audience buying Amy Grant’s Lead Me On in mass quantities was not ready for a record that contained the lyrics, “We saw rouge and vermillion, we walked by the water.”
Daniel Amos continued to make records through the ’90s and up to the present day (their 2001 ELO-channeling double-album Mr. Buechner’s Dream is as wondrous as anything they released in their prime). Their music doesn’t require any level of faith to enjoy it (as this severely lapsed Christian can attest). All it takes is a bit of imagination and an appreciation for the strange, the daring and the creative. Darn Floor — Big Bite has all of those, and more, in spades.