1.27.2010

Title Tracks - It Was Easy


Expectations from works past, previously-revealed artistic intentions and all the other shadows of memory play a role in the first impressions that albums have on people. It's inevitable. So I'm glad that I went into my first listen of Title Tracks' It Was Easy with absolutely no historical context. If I had realized this was the solo project of John Davis, drummer of the defunct dancy post-whatevers Q and Not U, I might have been too thrown off by the straight-forward tunefulness of the whole affair to appreciate the sense of songwriting craft that went into it. I was never much of a QANU fan. I had a passing acquaintance with them, and heard from more than one friend that they had once felt like I did until they invested a little more time listening and became full-time devotees. In all my attempts, though, I only came across a couple of their songs that ever got added to any of my playlists.

That's why It Was Easy is such a pleasant surprise. Whatever busy nu-funk I might have expected from the man responsible for the heartbeat of Q and Not U is absent here. The first similarity that these songs call up is with Ted Leo and his numerous antecedents. In the initial five seconds of the first song "Every Little Bit Hurts", a palm muted guitar and high-register syncopated bass line sound like the perfect bed for Mr. Leo's vocal stylings. Davis' voice, though, is lower and calmer, and slides between his chest and a clean falsetto without ever displaying a strain. The most consistent parallel that can be drawn over the course of the album is with the solo work of New Pornographers' front man Carl "A.C." Newman, whose first album The Slow Wonder is a textbook of pop-rock economy. Not only do the melodies and song structure echo Newman's sensibilities, but Davis' voice evens bears a striking sonic resemblance to the red-headed Vancouverite. It never feels like mimicry, but this is music that owes a debt to many points on the rock continuum. A distinct range of vibe is displayed through It Was Easy, from the bouncier "Piles of Paper", "Steady Love" and "Hello There" to the bare and echo-laden "At Fifteen" and the medium stride of "No, Girl", which made me think of the 60s two hit wonder, The Cyrkle.

On a slight downside, "Black Bubblegum" might have a chorus that's a little too sweet to hear too many times running, but the hushed and precise harmonies of the bridge makes it easy to ride out without ever getting the urge to skip through. Also, the copy upon which I based my review was missing Davis' take on The Byrds' "She Don't Care About Time", one of two cover songs on this album. Judging by the short and delicate, but faithful, rendition of "Tougher Than the Rest" by Bruce Springsteen, though, Gene Clark's Bach-infused work is in capable hands.

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