Daniel Romano’s “How Ill Thy World Is Ordered” in review

Mo Dow, A&E Reporter

In his newest album, “How Ill Thy World Is Ordered,” Canadian musician Daniel Romano crosses boundaries between genres in one of the most stand-out releases this year. 

The year has been marked by relatively minimal new content, with many musicians holding off on releasing new material until they can tour again and many others struggling to produce music in quarantine. But Romano has broken this trend in a remarkable way. Since “How Ill Thy World Is Ordered” has been released, Romano has put out a grand total of nine albums in 2020 alone

“How Ill Thy World Is Ordered” is an exceptional album that is completely independent of context. The album isn’t a major departure from Romano’s sound, but it does mark a maturation and refinement of his song writing. He started out in the punk rock scene, before establishing himself more concretely as a country musician. However, in the last few years he has radically changed his image and his music, breaking constraints of genre and style and blending elements of 60’s folk music and 70’s pop with a unique approach to lyricism. 

His lyrical work is unique among the industry today. His writing is grand, ambiguous and poetic, seemingly archaic yet somehow relevant to the modern world. These lyrics are often in contrast with the rest of his sound, which is extremely modern. Though his style has its roots in traditional folk and country music, Romano isn’t afraid to explore sounds that would never be associated with the genres in which he operates. He mixes electronic tracks with more traditional analogue instruments and always manages to keep his sound tight and ordered. 

Illustration by Annika Bauerle.

The first track on the album, “A Rat Without a Tale” is one of the albums’ clear hits, and it boasts the most plays by far on Spotify, more than double the number of its nearest competitor. The song is an eclectic mix of sounds that are at times very loud and busy with background vocalization, distorted electric guitar and punchy horns. The song is remarkable in how it places emphasis through spacing. Instead of a constant build in intensity, it creates empty space around strong moments in the rhythm, and then throws in a vocal punch or a drum hit for additional effect. It also has one of the stranger intros on the album, and lets the listener know right off the bat what kind of album they are in for.

The title song of the album “How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is also of particular note for its strong drum beat and melodic organ line. It is arranged in a characteristically Daniel Romano style that it cannot be described in any other way. But it is also poignant. It lingers and paints the problems in our world with very broad brush strokes by highlighting broken things without delving into specifics. 

Finally, one other song on the album struck a particular chord with me: “Joy’s Too Often Hollow.” The title alone indicates that it might be a slow, heavy ballad about the inevitability of death or some equally grim topic, but the song is actually very upbeat. It uniquely combines rock and country, which highlights Daniel Romano’s roots while also showcases his unique vocal work that, while hard to pin down, draws comparison to Neil Young and Bob Dylan. It’s also very catchy. I haven’t been able to get it out of my head for days; yet, it is also full of depth and complexity. The song points to the elusiveness of joy, both in life and in language. It is a very hard thing to hold and a nearly impossible thing to capture.

“How Ill Thy World Is Ordered” is not without its flaws, but overall it is more than worth praising. Romano incorporates different sounds from across his long and storied history in the music industry, combining folk and country sensibilities with blaring guitar riffs and bold, unique vocals. More importantly, the album does what all great music does: It speaks to the moment that we’re all living in. Daniel Romano manages to address the chaos and loneliness of the world today with a smile on his face, packing the emotional weight that lays on all of us in a bright, melodic package.