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Recording:
  Midnight at the Black Nail Polish Factory  
 
Artist:
  The Deathray Davies  
 
Label:
  Glurp  
 
Release Date:
  6.May.2003  
 
Reviewed by:
  Tracers  
         
 
Rating:
   
         
 
Review:
 

Iíve spent nearly the last three months struggling with writing this review, which perhaps correlates with the issues Iíve had with the album in general. And finally, in a fit of understanding, I managed to put it all together in my head: I am on one hand impressed by Midnight in the Black Nail Polish Factory and think it may be one of the best things Iíve heard this year. Yet, on the other hand, I am vaguely disappointed in it and suspect that with a few changes in the mix and structure, it could have been even better.

Perhaps my disappointment can be understood better with a little background. Compared with the brilliance of 2002ís Day of the Ray the new album by Dallasís The Deathray Davies would have to be utterly remarkable to make its mark in the first place. Furthermore, the band themselves had stated to me at one point that Midnight at the Black Nail Polish Factory would be darker and "heavier" than their previous efforts. I wasnít sure what to make of that statement. In the past, The Davies have specialized in clever song-writing, catchy riffs, and a slightly bouncy ethos which manages to convey an overall happiness, despite the occasionally depressing topic. In short, when I think of The Deathray Davies, I smile and start to sing along in my head.

From the first, Midnight at the Black Nail Polish Factory doesnít evoke the same reaction. And since it wasnít more of the same, at first, I was disappointed by these obvious comparisons. However, as the album progressed, I found myself entranced by the way the musical themes built on each other, and by the way the mix melded so that the band, in effect, created a tone poem which manages to evoke a slightly claustrophobic mental space and the thoughts such a place inspires.

Wow. That was a mouthful, huh? I guess what I mean is that this new album doesnít sound that much like previous efforts.

The first song is an instrumental, and itís not until we get to the fourth song, The Girl Who Stole the Eiffel Tower, that the band really hits its usual quick-beated, sing along with the clever lyrics stride. Still, after that point, thereís plenty of happy bounciness evident in some of the songs. For instance, How to Win at Roulette may be the easiest singalong since Superchunkís Itís Beautiful Here Too, while I Regret the Day I Tried to Seal Danielís Ego has enough clever wordplay and energy to sit firmly beside the more upbeat tunes on Day of the Ray. Likewise, the ubiquitous They Stuck Me in a Box in the Ground (they are up to Part 5 now) shows up, although in this version, the song seems to be a self-referential meditation on the previous incarnations of the song and why Daviesí leader/singer John Dufilho continues to write them.

Nevertheless, the slightly slower, different-sounding songs such as Dominique also have their charm. In fact, the best song on Midnight at the Black Nail Polish Factory isnít one of the patented Deathray Davies tunes; instead itís the somewhat mournful Low and Silent. This song begins with a riff repeated from one of the earlier tracks and the usual semi-confessional lyrics. However, at one point, the entire band stops and a horn solo (which repeats the melody) begins. In and of itself, this is very pretty. But then, the music begins again and builds until Dufilho seemingly throws off the sad lyrical attitude and instead launches into a repeated re-affirmation of ďIím done with this isolation.Ē This change of pace and structure within Low and Silent is a bit different that the usual Davies fare, and they pull it off quite gracefully.

Furthermore, the linkages which occur between the individuals songs are so carefully crafted that they couldnít help but be intentional. For instance, the instrumental theme which leads off is reprised throughout the album. And beyond this, there are other smaller details which link the songs: the slow beat of Gone Against the Tide is echoed in the pace of and Silent, whereas the full-on wall of sound present in I was That Masked Man comes back again in the echo of I Regret the Day I Tried to Steal Danielís Ego. These seemingly small touches come together to help suggest that Midnight at the Black Nail Polish Factory should be considered as a unified whole instead of merely as a group of songs which are conveniently strung together.

Based on what I say above, you can see that I really like Midnight at the Black Nail Polish Factory. But beyond that, I have to confess, I want it to be brilliant -- I want it to be an album that is not only wellĖconceived but also expertly executed. And I canít go quite that far -- and this is where my critique goes beyond mere nostalgia for their previous work. I think that in the process of constructing this opus, The Deathray Davies forgot how to construct a solid album. For instance, there is a certain sameness to the earlier parts that could lead the listener to think that this band doesnít know how to build a song into something that grows and becomes something greater at its end than at its beginning. In fact, a good friend of mine who listened to the album didnít really begin to enjoy it (if that) until Low and Silent. ďIf Iíd heard this song first, I might think there was something to this band,Ē he told me as we listened to the album, ďbut otherwise, they do nothing for me.Ē

Similarly, the oddities of the albumís mix, while intriguing, also at times work against it. By this I mean, the way that certain accent notes and instruments pop out at the listener in a way which is disconcerting and takes away from the overall effect. Perhaps this too (like so much on the album) was intentional; however, the lack of fluidity calls attention away from the whole structure (which seems important) and focuses it on the individual song, effect, or note.

In some ways, this album is a victim of its own conception. If it were merely the newest offering of such a creative and competent band, itíd likely get raves that wouldnít stop. However, The Davies tried something different and hit a few rough patches along the way. Nevertheless, the way the entire album builds to its conclusion as well as the way The Deathray Davies chose to go against audience expectation is an impressive thing indeed. And, as such, itís definitely worth a listen, if only to hear the potential evident within its structure.

 
         
 
Related Links:
  Day of the Ray, the previous full-length by The Deathray Davies.
The Davies in concert earlier this year.
 
         

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