New Music: Friday Roll Out! with John Davis & The Cicadas, Bully, and Beach Slang/Quiet Slang

When it comes down to the music I tend to live in the past, eschewing just about everything that passes for radio-friendly on airwaves. I would prefer listening to classic Wu-Tang albums, along with that first Pavement album rather than the derivative shlock that passes as music. But then I realize, I shouldn’t find complacency in the old and step out of my comfort zone, explore new sounds. It’s a tough debate within my own noggin’ there but I try.

This is the new one from John Davis, which may not mean much to the many but it does to the few. The introduction to John Davis’ music and to mainstream culture came as the catalyst that was The Folk Implosion, the band he partnered with Lou Barlow (Sebadoh, Dinosaur Jr.)  Davis has built a healthy catalog of albums, both solo and with Folk Implosion, that’s well over a dozen. On his new release as John Davis & The Cicadas, El Pulpo (Shrimper/Revolver), he’s composed several songs that are both memorable and challenging. And that’s not always at the same time. The opening 5 minute plus pop opus “Sugar Daddy Candy Corn” is built around a repetitive melodic bassline that’s entrancing, light and airy while Davis’ unique cadence is accentuated by those beautiful childlike background female vocals. It’s easy to get sucked into the band’s intriguing sound. They continue utilizing the same techniques on “We’ll Teach Them How To Privatize,” as Davis speaks/sings throughout it while those guitar notes and backing vocals create a hypnotic chant. There’s something very special about the way he creates songs, as if he’s a pop specialist, combining notes as only he can. “HFCS” is strangely addictive with its underlying keys and “King Piggly Wiggly” is more fervent in its delivery with the rhythm section leading the way, but it’s “Coca-Cola” where the Davis and the band sing a tongue-in-cheeky flavorful ode to the bottling company. He even throws in the lyrics to its old-themed commercial but delivering it much differently. It’s equally both bizarre and humorous and the wall of background voices that pops in accentuates the track. You get the sense of the theme running through the album with the song titles, and with “Stock Up All The Prisons” you get the sense he’s writing about what’s wrong with American society. But the song itself? It’s what the kids today would refer to as a ‘banger’ because the rhythm is bound to embed itself in anyone who listens to it. John Davis isn’t averse to changing things up drastically though. On “Who Milks The Cow?” he pieces together instruments, not much different than how Tom Waits sometimes does, and talks through this number hauntingly. With “Soja e o Rei” there’s a similarity there but it’s much darker and horns wickedly enter the fray.  And then the title track seems to blow everything out of the water. It’s much more melodic on this 10-and-a-half-minute opus. It’s amazing how they can push that melody for so long without becoming repetitious. El Pulpo is pretty jolting, an album that has John Davis & The Cicadas pushing the proverbial envelope from beginning to end. Other musicians really do need to take note.

It seems the world is losing its mind over the sophomore release by Bully. How appropriate that it’s titled Losing (Sub Pop), a 12-track release of punk-inspired rock with shifting dynamics fronted by one Alicia Bognanno. But I don’t know if Bully is actually a band or just Bognanno’s alter-ego. Regardless, I’m not completely sold on Losing, and unwilling to jump on the Bully bandwagon. Please, bear with me for a moment. Some musicians like former Hole drummer Patty Schemel have co-signed on Bully saying “I love Bully the way I love Sebadoh, Dinosaur Jr. and the Breeders.” Given, everyone’s entitled to an opinion but those bands are of a different ilk and need to be regarded as such. I love those same bands and Bully still has a long way to get there. Don’t get me wrong, Bognanno has written some catchy numbers with Bully but her vocals at times seem forced, from wispy to howling. “Running” traverses the gambit in this manner, pulled through with a repetitious bassline but when Bognanno sings “And I mean it! I get anxious too,” I don’t find it, believable. When Cobain played with the dynamics of his own voice, everyone felt it. “Kills To Be Resistant” has a great melody go through it, led by those hefty guitar notes and percussive rhythms but again, that same dread takes over me when vocals are yelled. “Guess There” is probably the best meeting point for both because it’s not over-the-top on this mid-tempo’d number. Maybe the same could almost be said for “Blame” with its catchy rhythm and bounce. I’ll say one thing though, musically I can enjoy the rhythms, melody, and harmonies that are found throughout Losing, and my intent is not to even imply Alicia Bognanno’s vocals are terrible or simply bad. I’m a fan of the softer delivery and harmonizing but just because there are shifting dynamics doesn’t mean vocals need to shift all the time as well.

If I voiced my excitement for more Beach Slang material I stop and wonder why the band decides to not offer up more Beach Slang material, instead of trying to pacify me with We Were Babies & We Were Dirtbags (Polyvinyl). It’s a 4-song release but it’s Beach Slang as Quiet Slang, an alter-ego of sorts where the band literally turns down or turns off their instruments, in lieu of something more… subtle. Vocalist James Alex takes some of the band’s songs, strips them down, and simply sings over piano & cello. While I’m all for pushing the proverbial envelope I still would have loved to hear more from the full band’s frontal assault. That’s not to say I’m completely dismissive of the group’s latest E.P. here because these renditions are lustrous and just downright lovely. “Future Mixtape For The Art Kids” has me singing along regardless of rendition. And I keep playing it over and over, occasionally finding the other version just because. Now “Bad Art & Weirdo Ideas,” has Alex channeling his inner-Richard Butler. This version of the song sounds like it could possibly be one of the best songs the Psychedelic Furs never wrote! There are a couple of additional tracks reworked here, and both “Androgynous” and “Thirteen” are worth the listen. Ok, guys, let’s get to work on a new album ok? Great, thanks.

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