If you ask me what I did last weekend, I'll say something like, "Watched the Vikes, caught a flick, washed a load of laundry." I probably won't mention that I spent all of Sunday afternoon lying on my couch listening to the new davis? song "Back in June" 53 times in a row.
But as long as we're on the topic, the sophomore effort from Fargo-Moorhead's finest has arrived, and it's better than their first (very good) record. The album will be available when davis? plays at 9 p.m. Monday and Tuesday at the Blue Ox in Brainerd and 9 p.m. Dec. 5-6 at Moonlite Bay in Crosslake.
"Radio Ashes" starts with "Reluctantly" and ends with "Bleu," a pair of tunes that sound like leftovers from the band's 1999 self-titled debut. But the eight tracks in between are a triumphant announcement that davis? has reached the next level.
The only flaw of the first album -- an overemphasis on congas and slap bass -- has been eliminated. Their percussionist left the band, forcing davis? to move away from their swingy roots toward a groovy yet decidedly rocking sound.
Guitarist Matt Cook gets a chance to shine on the new album, with a delicate solo on "Problem" and a ripping solo on the title track. "Back in June" is heavenly, with only Nick Peterson's solid drumwork keeping a listener rooted to the mortal coil. Bassist Pete Morsch is like a good umpire in a baseball game -- you hardly notice he's there, so he must be doing a good job.
Lead vocalist Ike Morsch -- imagine Dave Matthews with a silkier voice -- doesn't crave the spotlight as a songwriter. The band rarely plays the first album's most powerful song, "The Afterthought," because, ironically, Ike had second thoughts about the lyrics.
He's closer to Guided by Voices than Bruce Springsteen on the "What the Heck is He Writing About?" Meter. However, after a couple dozen spins, you'll enjoy "Gone" for more than its gorgeous hooks, as ghosts, feathers and rustling curtains coalesce into a tortured lament about a lost love the guy just can't get out of his head. The "ooooh" chorus is a release for the listener, and perhaps for the songwriter as well.
If you go
When/where: 9 p.m. Monday and Tuesday at the Blue Ox in Brainerd, 9 p.m. Dec. 5-6 at Moonlite Bay in Crosslake
Web site: www.davisband.com
"Problem," positioned at track two, sets the album's mellow, foot-stomping tone, as Cook, Peterson and Pete Morsch give davis? better backup vocals than most four-piece rock bands can boast. "The Poison" is a spacious beauty, showing off the wonderful studio work by the crew at Two Fish Studios in Mankato. If davis? were to shoot a video for this song, they'd have no choice but to embrace the clich and set up in an abandoned aircraft hangar in the middle of nowhere.
"Carefree Child," with its "tired stars hanging from the ceiling," is the album's pretty tearjerker, reminiscent of the first record's "We Lie Alone" -- another great song davis? hardly ever plays live.
At least the transcendent "Back in June" is secure on the set list. Ike Morsch's vocals are like a resigned leap off a cliff; when Cook's guitar kicks in, it's like discovering you can fly. It might just be the Perfect Pop Song, and the rest of "Radio Ashes" isn't far behind.
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