❉ The Joan As Police Woman collaborator’s debut solo album is strong work.
“The album is an oppressive listen, and needs to be treated as one, but there’s much power behind the dark lyrics and sparse acoustic guitars… There’s an audible sense of soul searching on display here, and depth to the words he chooses.”
You read that title right, this is a very downbeat album. This isn’t Morrissey pantomime sadness or Robert Smith self-doubt, this is a self-proclaimed break-up album, Okkervil River band member Benjamin Lazar Davis’ singing from the perspective of the disenfranchised and departed. Lucky for him, he’s a compelling singer, as pained a vocalist as Thom Yorke, complete with soothing staccatos that echo the Robin Gibb vocals of the Bee Gees soul steered sixties. The album is an oppressive listen, and needs to be treated as one (do not throw this on during a wet and dreary Winter week!), but there’s much power behind the dark lyrics and sparse acoustic guitars.
Davis has the song-writing chops, he’s cut his teeth working with Joan As Police Woman as well as writing/producing songs with Anais Mitchell, Kimbra, Delicate Steve, Sam Amidon, Markus Acher, and Margaret Glaspy, his moniker as “chronic collaborator” well and truly deserved. This is his debut solo album and it is certainly a memorable one. Choosing Sides is a particularly haunting track, as Davis sings of refusing to align himself or to lose sleep over the darkness the desolation of life brings.
There’s an audible sense of soul searching on display here, the entire record was put together in Davis’ childhood bedroom at his parents’ house. Electronic drum led Right Direction sounds of direction-lessness and pathetic-ness, a lyrical display of items being “far away” and trying not to “fall behind” ring of Elliott Smithisms, there is depth to the words he chooses (he co-wrote the song with Kimbra Johnson, detailing that her Pro Tools were so proficient, he informed Consequence of Sound “she was playing it like an instrument when we made the demo”). Somebody’s Speaking For Me fronts upwards with siren ringing strings, Davis finger picking with the delicacy Paul Simon brought to Scarborough Fair. Esoteric pop piece A Love Song Seven Ways is an illustrious piece, with the pure psychedelic qualities of Tame Impala in concert.
There is a power behind the maligned negativity, and the odd time Davis moves from the screaming self-expressionism to more conventional commercialism, the songs suffer for it. Life Is Dangerous, led by Nile Rodgers-esque drums, is jarringly poppy on an album that proclaims to be anything but pop. Irene tries unsuccessfully to sound like a Bon Iver song- never a good sign! But the lows are few and far between. Acquitted, the album’s closer, is the album’s most powerful and one of the sparser songs, Davis singing with the low baritone qualities of Marc Bolan’s acoustic guise for the opening half. Just as John Lennon sighed relief when he claimed “the dream is over” on Plastic Ono Band, here Davis lets himself go with a tale of ocean beauty and bird cheeps.
Nothing Matters is a haunting walk into the darker depths of human misery, but much like most suffering, there’s hope to be found. Perhaps his next album will reflect a more positive reflection on his artists’ journey? Either way, this is strong work.
❉ Benjamin Lazar Davis – ‘Nothing Matters’ set to release May 4th on 11A Records via Bandcamp