DANNY THE K – Cigarettes & Silhouettes

Guitarist/vocalist Dan Kopko has been an integral part of the Boston music scene for years. Maybe you’re familiar with him and know his work with bar room rockers Watts – makers of the excellent ‘Black Heart of Rock ‘n’ Roll’ LP. Or maybe you stumbled across him in 2022 with his newer band The Shang Hi Los, delivering catchy power pop. Whatever your experience of Dan’s work, you’ve been guaranteed to find some great tunes along the way.

This release – credited to Danny The K – is no exception. Its five tracks, although varied, have a heartfelt quality that’s often found at the centre of Kopko’s best work, and whether tackling 60s infused bubblegum rock, power pop gold, or even an unexpected detour into something with a more modern twist, the performer aims to give his listeners a good time.

Opening with a chopping acoustic riff and a familiar vocal melody, the title cut immediately advertises a tune with an old heart. As it slowly builds, firstly by applying Danny’s slightly husky vocals and then a full compliment of rigid drums and chiming electric guitars, it grows into an old school power pop gem. Moving through the verses, it’s easy to hear the pop that sits at the heart of the best Shang Hi Los material, even if it’s shared here in a slightly more DIY fashion, and the track’s use of keys that sound like old Beatle-esque mellotron embellishments give everything a necessary lift. By the time the last chorus is reached, something that began life in a slightly raw mood has blossomed into a great pop-rocker, and its flowing bass and buoyant tune almost guarantee listening enjoyment. By contrast, ‘Roller Derby Girl’ is a little spikier. The core of the track takes a lot of musical cues from the skinny tie wearing new wavers of 1980, which Dan takes on board very naturally. It doesn’t take long before some great pop-rock is in place, though – sometimes sounding like a distant cousin of the Shangs – and the performer’s natural vocal sits very easily against a slightly rockier backdrop. This could’ve felt too much like a flat rehash of a musical past in places, but by introducing a middle eight where multi-layered Kopkos deliver the title as a massive hook supplies an essential pop twist, and gives the listener a massive earworm in the process. That’s enough to make the track a power pop essential, but there’s more coolness lurking in the climax when Dan unveils extra keys and things take a turn further towards bubblegum rock. In terms of supplying a sunny vibe, this is one of the EP’s standout tunes.

It’s beaten by ‘The Skateaway’, however, which aims for shamelessly optimistic pop rock throughout a joyous two and a half minutes. Despite recycling part of the melody from The Shang Hi Los’ ‘Sway Little Player’ – or perhaps because of that – it shares some near perfect power pop, on which Kopko sounds like a man who’s absolutely enthused. Behind the bubblegum-ish melody, a Wurlitzer inspired keyboard swirls and swooshes with abandon, whilst chiming guitars and 60s inflected drums hold down a great rhythmic style. The melody is one you’ve always known; the delivery also comes from a tried and tested stock, but by the time the middle eight drops into the unmistakable Phil Spector rhythm, this track becomes a genre classic. It’s over-familiar in many ways, yes, but Kopko shares the tune in a very knowing way, ensuring his fans will love what they hear.

Taking a side step into a beat heavy pop sound, the base of ‘Meet You In The Elevator’ sort of sounds like a Kopko twist on an old Beyoncé single at first, and a soulful vibe continues to cut through the main melody, even once a layer of keys and an intermittent guitar mark their place within a very uncharacteristic tune. The rhythms also have influence from downtempo electronica and synth pop, but Kopko uses the style to drive his own take on adult pop very effectively. A tune that’s more about mood than sing-along hooks, it ambles with a mid tempo, always expecting the understated vocal to rise up and do the heavy lifting – which it doesn’t, but the result sounds fairly pleasant. This won’t be for everyone, it’s great to hear Danny trying something very different here.

When heard as a stand alone single, ‘Sugar Rush’ didn’t sound like top tier Kopko, and measured directly against tunes like ‘Sway Little Player’ and Watts’ ‘Flash of White Light’ it still might not be, but when heard as part of this release, it actually sounds a lot stronger. The track’s blend of bells and beats sets up a quirky base, but its the chiming guitars that’ll win listeners’ hearts, and although Dan’s gravel-edged vocals are sometimes at odds with the tune’s candy-striped centre, his natural flair works well enough, stopping everything becoming that little too sweet in record time. By the time the second verse is done and Dan introduces a few quirky guitar sounds and a wordless “da da da”, a tune that felt as if it were trying a little too hard to impress finally hits its stride, and a multi-tracked lead guitar hinting at a love of Cheap Trick tops everything brilliantly.

These five originals all manage to feel different in their own way, but when heard together, the material feels coherent. As an extension of the Shang Hi Los’ world or as a stand alone listen, these tunes are a great showcase for Danny The K’s obvious talents. There’s not much here that’s necessarily as perfect as the best Shang Hi Lo’s tunes (except ‘The Skateaway’, with good reason), but a blend of natural flair and retro charm leads to a very enjoyable listen that’s well worth the price of a download.

[The CD release and download also include bonus acoustic versions of ‘Cigarettes & Silhouettes’ and ‘The Skateaway’.]

October 2023