City Paper is not for tourists
Title Tracks is the solo project of John Davis, formerly of the D.C. classic-pop duo Georgie James and dance-punk/post-hardcore band Q and Not U. He’s one of the greatest, if not the greatest, indie talents to come out of the area in recent years; his penchant for deceptively simple melodies and tortured lyrical koans is unrivaled. Places, Georgie James’ first (and likely last) album was one of my favorites of 2007. It featured Davis’ break-up letters and reminiscences, sung sweetly but with great intensity, coupled with the ironic musings and harmonies of singer Laura Burhenn. In my opinion, Davis’ contributions were superior; his singing seemed to come from a place of real pain, but he always put melody and tunefulness at the forefront. The pair were never romantic, but by the time the album was released their partnership was already in trouble. “Our personalities and our sensibilities were a bad match and it was becoming exhausting and disheartening,” Davis writes in an e-mail. The bulk of the songs from Title Tracks’ debut It Was Easy, then, were written during the duo’s final months, when it was touring and promoting Places. This was an unhappy time for Davis, and some of these feelings are reflected in the dour mood of his new album’s lyrics. It Was Easy is not easy at all: It’s full of dazed, cryptic couplets that are often bitter and sometimes mean. “Don’t push me under the threatening tide/To see if my words remain true,” he sings on “Piles of Paper.” “Don’t let me know what’s really inside/Or you’ll see what silence can do.” Many of the songs take this form—spirited back-and-forths between Davis and an unnamed female antagonist. “Watering a house on fire will only grow the kind of wires you trip on,” he adds on “Found Out.” “I just won’t try anymore to walk across the kind of floors you slip on.” Sonically, It Was Easy echoes Places in many ways, touching on numerous intelligent pop styles of decades past, from ’60s and ’70s garage to ’80s singer-songwriter radio rock and ’90s alt-country. Indeed, its two covers, Bruce Springsteen’s “Tougher than the Rest” and the Byrds’ “She Don’t Care About Time” don’t sound at all inconsistent with the rest of the work. (Davis plays almost every instrument and does most of the singing here, although Camera Obscura’s Tracyanne Campbell joins him on a pair of tracks.) Though the tone is often caustic, tracks like “Black Bubblegum” and “No, Girl” show that Davis hasn’t lost his ability to craft memorable, delectable hooks. It is the sound of catharsis, a somehow-enjoyable time capsule of an artist’s misery.