'Signals' Review: Daniel Davies conjures up a magical, angular, abstract world with his second solo album
This haunting new record has been inspired by the work of the visual artist Jesse Draxler, whose disruptive art perfectly shaped Daniel Davies' soundscapes
Besides his work with bands like CKY, Year Long Disaster, and Karma To Burn, the talented musician and composer Daniel Davies is probably best known for his frequent and fruitful musical collaborations with his Godfather, the famed horror movie director John Carpenter - that's what being the son of The Kinks' guitarist Dave Davies can net you!
Some of their best work to date includes the soundtrack for the horror movie 'Halloween', which was also a collaboration with Cody Carpenter, John's son. The musically gifted trio also contributed to the highly acclaimed instrumental albums 'Lost Themes' and 'Lost Themes II', which was released via Sacred Bones Records.
And just last week, Daniel Davies released his second solo LP, and first for Sacred Bones, called 'Signals' - we recently took a listen to it, and were floored by the immersive, textured brilliance of this record.
Whether he's scoring a film or busy making a solo album, Daniel Davies likes to think cinematically. He often takes visual cues, such as vivid images or elements of a story – on a movie screen, on a canvas, or flashing through his mind – to inform the shape of his compositions and the sounds he uses to bring them to life.
For the new LP 'Signals', the primary inspiration for Davies was a collaboration with the visual artist Jesse Draxler, whose otherworldly mixed media works grace the cover and the album booklet. “I had an instant connection to Jesse’s art,” Davies explains. “One of the main concepts for this album was working with the feeling of uncertainty. Jesse’s art illustrates that perfectly with his disruptive shapes. At first, they are foreign to the landscapes they live in, but over time we become used to them, we adjust. The foreign objects force us to evolve, to accept and live with the uncertainty they create.”
Using Draxler’s obtuse images as his jumping-off point, Davies then created eight richly-layered compositions that created a soundtrack for the unsettling world of the artwork. “Musically, I wanted to capture that same contrast — melodies evolving out of drones, haunting beds of tension with beautiful shimmering melodies laid above. What were once conflicting emotions became harmonious.”
That sentiment is perfectly expressed in the opening pulses of 'Last Days', the album's first track. Utilizing a bass beat similar to a heart murmur, Davies drenches us in reverberant guitar phrases, before we are visited by gorgeous, triumphant synth patterns that cascade over us.
Think Philip Glass meets Mike Oldfield and you'll get a fair idea of how amazing this sounds altogether. 'One Hundred Years' starts off with moving, cinematic synths, akin to viewing one's life from a great distance in slow motion, almost as if you're awaiting the final judgment on the videotape of your life by some intergalactic federation.
'Origins' mixes chirpy synths and some epic chords to make for a languid, loping run through the misty mountains, almost as if you were astride Aslan's back as he surveys the kingdom of Narnia in all its grandeur.
As the songs move through the landscape, Davies calls on whatever instrumentation he needs to serve their journey. He utilizes the warbling synths and slicing guitar that has characterized his soundtrack work, but he’s also preternaturally at ease when he busts out a harpsichord and a vocal synth on tracks like the beautiful lead single 'Phantom Waltz', which really shines as the stand-out piece on this album.
On 'Destructive Field', he leaves space for his Halloween collaborator John Carpenter to lay down his signature unnerving, heart-in-mouth sound. With the exception of that tense, terse passage, all the music on the album is recorded by Davies himself.
'Beyond Megalith Illumination' is a lovely, heady, melodic mix of acoustic guitar and frozen synths, reminding us of textures present in Led Zeppelin's 'Rain Song', or even Radiohead's 'Faust Arp'.
'Possessor' starts off in almost an industrial vein, with its intense machine-like pounding and skittering, before giving way to something far more serene and compelling - it's like a deconstructed Depeche Mode song decided to spread its wings and fly anyway.
The album closer 'Visible' is a swirling, underwater saga, a compelling tale told from the belly of a beast, the soundtrack to 'Moby Dick 2: Captain Ahab's Revenge'.
While the results on this LP do feel incredibly cinematic, Davies said he felt liberated by the absence of a film to score: “While scoring a movie, I serve the director’s vision and focus on telling a specific story. When working on an album, I’m free to create my own narrative and be more experimental.” That freedom is clearly and frequently expressed in the elegant and ornate detailing present on 'Signals'.
It’s an album that warrants repeated listens, and much like a new treehouse in the mountains, once you get used to the angular view and varied textures on offer, you'll get so comfortable with its cozy strangeness that you'd never want to leave.