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2 November 2011

John Davis - 'Blue Mountains' (Shrimper)

I usually try to post an image that actually looks like my copy, but in this case I'm lazy so I'm just using the only one I could find, which is the CD cover I guess.  The only difference is that instead of the title appearing left of the flower picture, it is split to be above and below.  So, imagine.  And then imagine a world where the effeminate open-folk stylings of John Davis are given a more solid indie-rock backbone, but enough to (mostly) maintain the spacious fragility of his songwriting.  Side 1 has two hit singles, or they would-be if anyone ever heard them - 'Jeep Cherokee' and 'I'll Burn'.  I should probably add that in addition to the general public having to hear these, they would have to really welcome a change in popular tastes to be proper "hits". But I find them catchy as hell; toe-tapping, too.  In between you get 'I Took Flight' which is about as beautiful and lyrical as anything I've ever heard from Davis.  'Sadness, well I knew ye...' and that's a lovely couplet;; but then, the aforementioned 'I'll Burn' which is (possibly) about Davis being thrust into a deep-fryer!  Blue Mountains is such an excellent fucking record that it brings a smile to my face every time I hear it.  It's a mixture of the studio stuff, recorded with Shrimper producer-god Bob Durkee, and some home recordings which resemble the fragile freakpulse of Pure Night.  There's nothing on these besides guitar or maybe organ ('Tethers' ends side 1 in a beautiful malestrom of darkness).  Flipping the record over we get more of a studio side, with some really singsong jams - 'The Way You Touch Me Makes Me Laugh' and the really underreated 'Ready', which reminds me of Warn Defever's songwriting for His Name is Alive from around the same era.  I'm not sure if John Davis was making a stab at commercial success here, though the hit Folk Implosion song that predated this may have had some influence.  Despite the more regular rhythm and hi-fi production, it still feels really homemade and honest.  His lispy vocals are rather uncompromising, though that word usually means an extreme/aggressive aesthetic and here, they're just, please forgive me, really wimpy. But my gosh, I love Blue Mountains, and Davis has been silent ever since which truly, truly saddens me.  You can't help but love a record with a song called 'I Freaked Out Like a Big Truck', and of course I have a major major soft spot for the whole Shrimper/Inland empire/bi-fi scene (though Davis is a New Englander as this title indicates).  This scene (which also includes Refrigerator, Simon Joyner, and the Mountain Goats, all of whom I love and will get to eventually) strikes a perfect balance and came at the right time; clearly people making amateurish-yet-sophisticated, romantic-yet-contemporary songs in their bedroom is still prevalent, and the democratising of this all these days, via myspace and the death of the music industry etc -- make the bi-fi scene  even more awesome to me, because it was happening in the mid-late 90s..  I think what did it for me (besides the fact this music hit me when I was aged 16-20, which was perfect formative timing) is the way these artists also took over the means of production.  Dennis Callaci dubbing tapes for Shrimper is a zillion times more inspiring to me than uploading tracks to Soundcloud.  Maybe this self-created scene seems better to me because it wasn't so easy; the Internet wasn't used, or maybe only in the most infant form; I realise this shouldn't make the music itself inherently better, but I'm just trying to figure out my own biases, I guess.

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