By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
Drink With the Grown-ups and Listen to the Jazz
The Deathray Davies
When The Deathray Davies took the stage at Emo's during South by Southwest last month, a few things seemed off-kilter. One, frontman-songwriter John Dufilho had just finished playing a long set with his other band, Bedwetter, on the same stage--meaning it was one more hour of the same guy, same voice, same presence. Two, the band landed the coveted headliner slot on the strength of one mysterious demo cassette, meaning some other more established or long-suffering acts that applied for showcases didn't. But, hell, it's kill or be killed, right? And worse, all day leading up to the event, Dufilho had been puking his guts out with either stomach flu or food poisoning. He was a mighty good sport on stage, but the set's energy was about as bright and punchy as, well, an exhausted guy with the stomach flu.
The Deathray Davies is now a full-blown band that includes half of Bedwetter, Peter Schmidt, and drummer Matt Kellum of Chomsky. It's not yet time to judge that outfit; the SXSW gig was only the band's third show. The debut CD, Drink With the Grown-ups and Listen to the Jazz is just Dufilho--on all instruments, recorded before the Deathray Davies were a band, Dave Grohl-style. The disc is a layered, clever offering, full of discarded Brit-pop hooks (circa 1966) that lodge deep in the brain, jostling half-recalled memories. Just when you think it's all wasted on a big handful of Derivative, you unwittingly stick it in the car stereo for another drive home. Not terribly shocking that the SXSW bookers were charmed.
Most of these 14 self-consciously coy and pop-culture-referencing tunes could be buried in a time capsule labeled "Amerindie, 1999," though their experimental arrangements, flirtations with lo-fi, and intentional dissonance don't erase the solid pop foundations. Hey, all you contemporary kids, remember to toss in the nostalgia quotient: shimmery guitars and warbling keys against throttling bass and drums to make you think of Adam West's Batman on a blind date with Steven Malkmus, or Austin Powers' accidental sidetrip to Chapel Hill. Groovy, if not kinda winsome and warmed-over.
Most anyone could find something to like in all this buried earnestness. We got samples. We got Brian Wilson studio shenanigans. We got murky, satisfying U.K.-bred progressions and a guest appearance by Spyche. If you don't like the flat and staccato melody of "The Deathray Davies Set the Original Tone," then just move on to the next track, "Elephants," for the sweeter, rounder adventure. And so on. If you're looking for signs of jarring originality, look elsewhere. But as a songwriter's package, the sounds of Dufilho's Deathrays are mighty hard to dismiss, much less to extract from the part of your cerebral cortex labeled "hum."