The Danielson Famile, aka Daniel Smith and whoever he gathers around to do his bidding (the usual suspects are, actually, his family), had for many years been really ignored in the indie scene. The only people who paid them any attention were free-thinking artsy Christians.
And then all of a sudden in the past several years with the mainstreaming of freak-folk (spearheaded by Devendra Banhart) and the emergence of Sufjan Stevens (who seems to write folky compostions, not songs) the current indie scene all of a sudden seemed prime to accept an artist like Danielson. (Who had more than a little hand in the success of Sufjan Stevens.)
I remember one time going to Purple Door Music Festival where Daniel Smith was playing a solo set (as Brother Danielson, where he performs in a large fabric tree) and there were the devoted fans in some kind of bliss (this was before I actually owned any Danielson CDs, but I always had an appriciation for his odd visions) and people would walk by making disparaging comments... about the sorts of trash that passes as music these days. I suspect they were off to see the latest nu-metal band to play the HM Stage or something.
Since then I have remedied my collection by picking up all the Danielson cds and really enjoy them all (with the possible exception of A Prayer For Every Hour, which is just a bit too raw with mediocre production to really be too listenable on any kind of regular basis).
But I had high hopes for Ships, which we found out early on from Pitchfork (who, love 'em or hate 'em, you have to admit they have good, helpful news on artists like Danielson) was going to feature high profile artists like Deerhoof, Sufjan Stevens, Why?, and Half Handed Cloud. And unlike most artists who get guests to contribute to a work there wasn't any obnoxious track list where half of the songs said "Featuing ______." No, the focus is kept singularly on Danielson and none of the songs really stray from the Danielson trademark. Astute listeners might be able to pick out various artist's contributions, but it's not like you can listen to the album and say that tracks so-and-so definitely have that Deerhoof feel to them. Which is a very good thing.
After hearing the early stream of "Did I Step On Your Trumpet?" my excitement grew to a fervorous state. And little by little that decreased as most of the reviews I read mentioned about how great "Did I Step On Your Trumpet" is but that the rest of the album doesn't come near to measuring up. So I prepared myself for the worst.
And I needn't have had to. Not only are at least half of the songs right on the same level as Trumpet, but there are at least 4 which top it. Danielson has always done the female choir thing (his sisters were a major part of Sufjan's choir on Michigan) and used instruments like banjo and xylophone, so I would not say that Sufjan Stevens was a major influence on how Daniel Smith crafts music. However, (and it was partially seen on Brother:Son, the Brother Danielson cd, and is more fully realized on Ships) there is a definite smoothing out in general of Danielson's sound as compared to the Tri-Danielson!!! recordings. It's as if Daneil Smith has finally realized the epic feel that Sufjan seemed born with.
"Cast It At The Setting Sail" (track 2) is undoubtedly the greatest song on the album. It is catchy as hell and highlights what may be Smith's most interesting vocal performance.
If you like artists like Sufjan Stevens and The Fiery Furnaces and even The Polyphonic Spree (who probably owes their own debt to Daniel Smith and his various visions) then "Ships" is definitely an album to check out.