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Swollen hearts, obsessive minds

Drew Danburry releases album after album of endearing eccentricity

Drew Danburry, whether doing made-up jingles or beautiful chamber-pop, is always compelling. Photo credit: Cameron Manwaring

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Early on in my exploration of eccentric musicians, I encountered They Might Be Giants. Here was a band, my dad derisively noted, that would write a song about any old nonsense, whether it be a sentient night-light that just wants to do its best ("Birdhouse in Your Soul"), two lovers who've never met yet serenade each other from opposite ends of the earth ("Ana Ng"), or a cute country family getting menaced by psychopaths ("Hide Away Folk Family"). Theirs was a songwriting philosophy built from gleeful subversion, the ultimate example coming with "Fingertips," a suite of 20 bite-sized song fragments in a variety of styles, designed to be played on shuffle, so that each listen is unique.

It's this drive to confound expectations and revel in the challenges of writing in many disparate voices that pops into my head while listening to the work of Drew Danburry. Utah-based Danburry is an artist with more side projects than you can count on two hands, each with its own delightful take on form and viewpoint. The Funny Uncles, for instance, is Danburry's collaboration with JR Boyce, and their Writin' Songs collection is made up of 46 original jingles written for the likes of Pepsi, Johnson & Johnson, Skittles, Goldman Sachs, ExxonMobil, and the Olsen Twins (that last one gets particularly dark).

Those jingles, mostly delivered with hilariously faux-sincerity, cover a lot of stylistic ground, bouncing from lo-fi electronica to heartfelt folk to revved-up garage rock to the kind of elevator music that might actually pass for something official. Godric's Hollow, meanwhile, was released by Danburry under the Young Dumbledore moniker, and explores the emotional inner life of the titular Hogwarts headmaster in blurry, elegiac folktronica that finds beauty in a silly premise.

That gorgeous, swooning quality is more in line with the majority of Danburry's other work, particularly the albums he releases under his own name, like Goodnight Dannii. Heartfelt chamber-pop dominates the tone on that album, joined though they are by titles that recall the absurd naming conventions of Andrew Jackson Jihad ("Nirvana, by Kurt Cobain," "Optimus Prime is Dead," "Artex Died in Truth or Consequences, NM," "Will Oldham," and "Kevin Costner is the Barry Manilow of Actors" could all be songs on any AJJ release). Some songs do break rank, like the jaunty, Beach Boys-aping "Optimus Prime is Dead," or how "Artex" drifts into early, yelpy Bright Eyes territory.

Bands that have a compulsion to create - thinking particularly of Guided By Voices and They Might Be Giants, particularly in the latter's days of releasing a track a day on Dial-A-Song - tend to release music of widely varying quality. This is how it must be. But Danburry, even with 30 albums of his available just on Bandcamp, keeps an admirably even caliber over the intimidating amount of material. Danburry's work, like many of the artists I admire, appeals equally to the swollen heart and the obsessive mind.

Longtime friend and collaborator, Aubrey Debauchery (who's name-checked in on one of the titles on Goodnight Dannii), will be joining Danburry on this west coast tour, and her style works nicely as a counterpoint. While Danburry's - pretty as it can be - lays bare its endearingly lo-fi roots, Aubrey Debauchery creates polished, vibrant folk-rock. She's the kind of artist who releases a batch of B-sides to accompany a recent album, a practice that doesn't much exist in the indie rock world, showcasing her own compulsive impulses to get as much material out there as possible.

For anyone interested in delving into the wealth of music that Drew Danburry has persisted in releasing over the past decades, there's no right way to get started but to start sifting through. Or, you can catch him and Aubrey Debauchery at Le Voyeur.

Drew Danburry, All Ages, w/ Aubrey Debauchery, 8 p.m., Monday, Sept. 26, Cover TBA, Le Voyeur, 414 4th Ave. E., Olympia, 360.943.5710

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