Album Premiere: Daniel Markham’s Disintegrator

Photographs courtesy of the artist. Photographs by Erin Rambo.
Photographs courtesy of the artist. Photographs by Erin Rambo.

by: Thomas D. Mooney

Like many of his West Texas contemporaries, Daniel Markham has often been able to tap into the isolating, yet calm lonesomeness of The Panhandle. Whether it be Thrift Store Cowboys and Amanda Shires of the last decade, Terry Allen and The Flatlanders of the late ’70s, or Buddy Holly and Wink-native Roy Orbison of the late ’50s, they all the ability to capture the parting winds of the flatlands and the blistering sun of the West Texas deserts. It was engrained in their sound–becoming signature for each in their own shades.

The now Denton-based Markham, a decade in as a songwriter and musician, presents his third solo full-length album, Disintegrator. Third. In ways, that’s a misleading description. In reality, it marks his 12th release–following Waiting to Derail’s self-titled, One Wolf’s One Wolf I and One Wolf II: Secret of the Wolf, Larry Legion and Forest of Swords under the Larry Legion persona, solo works Demonstrations, Hexagons, Ruined My Life, Pretty Bitchin’, and the collaborative efforts of Smoke Paint with Tony Ferraro and Harmony in Hell with Claire Morales.

Though looking at an assortment of 12 albums and EPs can be overwhelming, it’s also necessary to fully understand Markham’s trek and path as an artist.

It’s here where Markham separates himself from not only his Panhandle counterparts, but from the majority of songwriters in general, outside the likes of Conor Oberst or Ryan Adams. With such a high release rate, one would assume a slip in quality, a loss of focus, or a disinterest that comes with oversaturation.

Contrary to that notion, Markham’s Disintegrator finds him sharp and zeroing in on the sound and voice he’s been seeking from the outset. Though he’s never fully settled down as a specific kind of songwriter or band, his transparent, effective melodies have been a constant. Following the likes of Alex Chilton, Elliott Smith,  and Chris Isaak, they’re as right as rain throughout.

Undoubtedly, Markham’s sound isn’t solely based on the open spaces and long, empty highways of West Texas–or even realized  by Markham until well into his career–but, like many others, they crept in after a lifetime of living in the area.

Markham’s roots and admiration of the likes of R.E.M., Big Star, Centro-Matic, Jason Molina, and Vic Chesnutt all find their way in. It’s part of his music equation. He often wears these influences on his sleeve rather than hide and pretend they didn’t seep in along the way.

Though all of them trace their origins to other regions of the US, Markham’s search for them is, still in some form, a result of growing up in Rotan, Texas. That hunt for something from the outside, it too comes from West Texas roots, even if only by proxy.

The vast majority of Disintegrator leaves as quickly as it comes. Except for the final two tracks, songs come and go in under three minutes. It creates a longing for songs as they pass. They never overstay their welcome or become too repetitive.

Standout “Disintegrator,” in ways, feels like Markham tip-toeing in a lo-fi version of dream-pop. Maybe the fading dream of a dram of dream-pop. It sets the initial high bar for the 10 songs to follow.

Much like most of Markham’s work, the greatest qualities within the album come through its subtleties. It’s the haunting pedal of “Slayer Tapes & AM Radio,” the Born in the USA Springsteenesque synth line of “Land of Men,” and the T. Rex hop of “Zelda” that push the album over the top. 

In many ways, Disintegrator feels like Markham is driving on endless highway or stuck in the darkest hours of night. Very little light makes its’ way in. When it does, it’s only the flash of a flame. There’s a slight sense of restlessness that only teases out on certain lines and phrases. Much like a Springsteen’s Nebraska or Elliott Smith’s From a Basement on the Hill, Disintegrator finds Markham pacing around with these songs.

Disintegrator is officially released tomorrow, Friday, May 06. You can pre-order the album (as well as Markham back catalog) here. Before though, exclusively preview the album in full below.