The most irritating thing about Danielson’s Daniel Smith isn’t his oddball faith-based lyrics. It’s not that he dresses up his siblings, both blood and honorary, in matching outfits for live shows by the Danielson Famile, another of his groups. It’s not even his ecstatic falsetto—a pinch-faced, shrill sound that could cause even a Kansas School Board member to question intelligent design. No, the problem is that while he has masterfully avoided the clichés of Christian music (Smith’s dad, Lenny, wrote “Our God Reigns,” one of the most popular modern-day hymns, and the younger Smith is tight with “emergent” Christian artists such as Sufjan Stevens), he’s followed alt-rock conventions in their stead. Take that Jad Fair–style high-pitched delivery and faux-naif approach, for example, or the creepy, communal vibe and kitchen-sink instrument arrangements of Danielson Famile records, so reminiscent of the Elephant 6 collective. Or the fact that Smith has released more records under different aliases than anybody this side of Will Oldham. But in spite of these plays to the cheap seats, Ships is evidence that Smith is getting bigger than his gimmicks. His voice on “Ship the Majestic Suffix,” the leadoff track, doesn’t seem as piercing as in the past. That could be because years of listening have inured my ears to treble, or perhaps it’s just that Smith, now in the thick part of his 30s, is finding it harder to hit that castrato crescendo. Though Ships benefits from no fewer than 21 musical contributors—often sounding as if they all descend on the songs at once—the album’s best song, “He Who Flattened Your Flame Is Gettin’ Torched” is simply accompanied by restrained piano, guitar, and drums. Smith plaintively reminisces about childhood, starting from birth, and lest we think that he’d forsake his family and friends, he sings, “I like to play alone/Never, ever all alone.” And the sheer amount of positivity that Smith infuses into each song, such as the vaudevillian family-style sing-along that closes the album, “Five Stars and Two Thumbs Up,” demonstrates a simple implementation of Christian principles that’s hard to hate on. “Thank you/For lending me your hand/For sharing time today/For giving back that idea,” he cheerfully intones on the track, finding his own voice and distinguishing himself from his world-weary influences. On “Did I Step on Your Trumpet,” he sings, “Pleasing people is so predictable.” Smith’s noise is never that, but it’s always joyful, thank Christ.—David Dunlap Jr.