Experienced multi-genre artist Daniel Ellsworth brings all of his prior skills to the table, presenting his first independent project in a set of four LPs. The newly released WHAT is Ellsworth’s first fully self-produced LP and is the third in the set of I HAVE / NO CLUE / WHAT / I’M DOING. Contrary to that title, Ellsworth certainly seems to know what he’s doing, as the five new songs in WHAT display a mature musical sensibility with their clever arranging and the mixing of musical styles.

WHAT holds the listener’s hand via lyrics that tell a story, a diverse array of synths, and a clear progression of styles. Beginning with the welcoming “Lost In the Rhythm”, Ellsworth introduces a beat and whooshing synths worthy of any dance party. It’s feel-good and optimistic, in touch with the speaker’s initial meeting with the love interest. 

“Blurry” heightens this euphoria, infusing its pop style with hip-hop influences, to evoke how the speaker is in complete awe of the lover. Panning synths in the catchy chorus create interest in the left and right ears, mimicking how it feels to have blurry vision in an auditory format.

“Flower Underground” flips the switch. Doubt sprouts in the speaker as the relationship with the lover takes a turn toward the uncertain. With indie-pop influences, this song has a myriad of synth timbres, creating an engaging collage of sound. The jazz piano solo hearkens to Ellsworth’s background in jazz piano, adding another new element to this LP. 

Ellsworth draws from his experience in techno-pop in “Operator Emma”, as the speaker is in contact with the lover via sparse phone calls. Pleading for “an answer on the line”, Ellsworth’s voice soars into its highest range so far. The sweeping synths toward the end seem to hint at a hopeful conclusion for this complicated situation.

The final track, “I Believe In You”, is about the sun rising at the end of a long night. Circling back to indie-pop, Ellsworth’s voice has that lo-fi, old-time-radio vocal effect. There’s even word-painting when rising synths accompany the lyrics “surrounded by the sunlight”. The relationship has been repaired, and the music reflects that sense of relief and contentment that comes after a test of trust.

Daniel Ellsworth’s WHAT is a prime example of how to intermix musical genres to tell a story. After many collaborations with other artists—Daniel Ellsworth & The Great Lakes, Chaos Emeralds, and DARKMINDS—Ellsworth sets out on his own, carrying a vast scope of musical experience with him.

What should you be doing now? Listening to WHAT!

Caitlin Moehrle