It was only last spring that the Twin Cities' Dan Israel released his previous album, “You're Free,” and here he is again with his latest, “Social Media Anxiety Disorder.” It's Israel's 15th disc, which means that he's nothing if not a lifer. Here's a guy who's been putting out albums for 20 years or more, and he's at the point where it's clear he's got nothing to prove. Like fellow Minnesotan and sometime collaborator Rich Mattson, Israel basically puts out records as often as he takes breaths, but each one of his releases deepens his body of work in a graceful way.
It's even impressive how Israel can give his new record such a dorky title and then overcome it just through the strength of the casually-confident music it contains. It's not a concept album about being middle-aged in the age of social media or anything — at least it doesn't play that way. Opener “Be My Girl” is a pumping pop-rock song that has hints of Tom Petty and The Hold Steady and Wilco and Elvis Costello in it, and it's a perfect example of Israel's ability to wield rock and roll tropes while also making them feel alive and electric and fun. It's one of those intangible skills. One person can make a song about romance with a few chords sound played-out and tired, and someone else — someone like Dan Israel — can make the same elements jump out of the speakers and sound like a revelation.
Who knows what Israel's talking about on the song “125,” but he's able to do the Robert Pollard thing where he takes nonsense lyrics (or at least lyrics that are nonsense to the listener) and makes them a key hook. “Take that dive,” Israel sings, “one twenty five.” John Lennon sang “goo goo ga joob” so the rest of us could have the freedom to not have to be Bob Dylan, and Israel takes advantage of that, here.
“Just Can't Take It” is nervy like the aforementioned Wilco's boppiest songs, but it's lusher and displays Israel's neat habit of adding unexpected production elements. The playful slide guitar solo that appears a third of the way through the tune is a nice move, but how much of the credit goes to guitarists Jon Herchert and John Fields is unknown.
“Still I'm Lost” is all about self-doubt and confusion, yet Israel dresses it up in lush '80s sounds to the point that one could picture a character in a Cameron Crowe film driving around, looking anguished, with it on the soundtrack. Yet it's not overproduced, and the simple melody is the focus.
Each track on “SMAD” is produced incredibly well. Israel and his stable of instrumentalists, engineers, and mixers do top-level work, making the record sound bright and well-produced, yet the record never crosses the line into overproduction, and there are lots of little bits of ear candy to chew on, both in the performances and in the arrangements. Take “Might As Well Be Me” — it's a loping, pensive acoustic song, until it suddenly takes off at the end and goes double-time.
It's not all winners, though. “Just Can't Take It Revisited” is a kind of weird remix of a song from earlier in the tracklist that finds Israel kind of doing a rap/spoken-word bit that doesn't fail completely, but reeks of “b-side.” The reprisal of “Out of My Hands” is a similarly odd track that is handed over to singer Tonia Hughes Kendrick for some vocal pyrotechnics that totally rule, but don't really fit the record.
But even these missteps aren't bad. They're just missteps, and no great songwriter goes without them. On this record, Israel mostly does his thing, and he does it extremely well. Very few musicians can keep making records this catchy and vital-sounding as they get into middle age, but Israel has again proved he's evergreen. No reason to think he won't still be here 20 years from now, doing exactly this. Here's hoping.
Tony Bennett reviews albums for the News Tribune. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Artist: Dan Israel
Album: "Social Media Anxiety Disorder”
Recorded at: Suburban Serenade and Dream Hog, Twin Cities
Personnel: Dan Israel (vocals, guitar), numerous others in various capacities
Upcoming show: 6 p.m. tonight at Ursa Minor Brewing, 2415 W. Superior St., Ste. B