Thursday, 9 February 2012

Richard Davies - 'There's Never Been a Crowd Like This' (Flydaddy)

Danger: we're entering another obsessive idiosyncratic favourite of mine. There's Never Been a Crowd Like This took me years to warm up to, as I remember borrowing it from a good friend my freshman year of University and not liking it at all. I checked it out because it was on Flydaddy, of course. Flydaddy ends up being an odd label in the history of it all (for me). It's a mid-sized indie that I suspect was a bit overfunded at times and certainly overreached (they were somehow involved in the V2 partnership with Virgin, and this is the Japanese edition of the CD, which means they were making separate editions for Japan). They also came about in that weird time where compact discs were still commercially feasible. We didn't have downloads yet and 1996 was that interesting turning point, post-grunge, where independent labels frequently flirted with bigger distribution partnerships and often blurred the lines of what 'independent' means. Flydaddy would be just another forgotten indie label, sinking into the blur along with Grass and Frontier and Alias, except they released a few cornerstones of my musical taste: Olivia Tremor Control, Number One Cup, and the Moles/Richard Davies. Even in 2012 I listen to these records repeatedly, more times than I would normally admit. Though as I was saying before, I came late to Davies. It wasn't until I had already moved out of the US that I discovered his greatness in retrospect. And a huge portion of that would be 'Transcontinental', the opening jam here. To say this is Richard Davies' finest accomplishment is not enough - nor is it a definitive answer, because 'Cars for Kings Cross' and 'Instinct' give it a run for its money. But I digress. 'Transcontinental' is much more than a great song - it's a world of mystery, a self-reflexive circuitous pop anti-classic, rooted in autobiography and infused with Wallace Stevens-like levels of obtuse affect. I've listened to it hundreds of times, and continually try to unravel it, even though there's nothing to unravel. Start here. Move through the album, which can be easily dismissed as a pedestrian 90's indie guitar-pop album, all the songs sounding somewhat similar (which was surely my dismissal of it back in '97). This is power pop, though not so powerful; Davies isn't interested in being brash and confident with his melodies. He doesn't always show his hand, and has a strong sense of the whole over the details. But the details are rich! There's a few confident, strident 4/4 stompers, except without any aggression behind them, making it an orchestral-pop horizon pretty similar to the best Cardinal songs ('Topple Into My Fantasy', 'Sign Up Maybe for Being'). And then some fragmentary, open sketches, like 'Hard River', which become more beautiful with each listen. And then we have 'Chips Rafferty', apparently a paen to an obscure Australian character actor, but not. It's something else, and I want to explain it, but where can we go? Davies falls into the category of songwriter who perfectly balances the line between accessible and difficult; he dangles me just enough of a line to hang onto something, which makes me want to draw my own portraits. Pure modernism, perhaps, or maybe songwriters like he (and Dan Bejar, and early Pavement too) appeal the most to people who want to create their own worlds. Thus, I connect with the beauty of subtlety; the expression is more gestural. The romance is between the words, but structurally dependent on them, being bordered by language. As I mentioned, this is the Japanese edition which has a slew of bonus tracks, which is why I spent years looking for it on eBay. There are demo versions of 'Transcontinental', 'Topple into my Fantasy' and 'Chips Rafferty' ('Topple' being striking for it's starkness and space -- I think the emergence of song from demo to studio recording is always interesting but more fascinating here). And then four live songs from the Richard Davies band, or maybe the Moles - 'Bury Me Happy' and two songs from Instinct, including the aforementioned 'Cars For Kings Cross' which still burns bright in the live version. 'If You Believe in Christmas Trees', one of the best Cardinal songs, ends it all, in a fairly aggressive version that makes me wish I had seen this band. I look back here and I haven't actually said much about what is so great about There's Never Been A Crowd Like This, but I guess that's for you to discover.

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