Tuesday, October 16, 2018

What If: A Brief Review Of The New Album From The Moles (Richard Davies Of Cardinal)

Richard Davies is an Australian-American with a Welsh name. I think he's a lawyer here in America now. And, of course, he's also one of the most brilliant songwriters to have bubbled up from the indie-pop depths in decades. He's recorded with Robert Pollard (as Cosmos), Eric Matthews (as Cardinal), and Bob Fay (from Sebadoh), but he's also the main-man behind The Moles. The band, without a lot of fanfare, have been prepping a new release, and I'm happy to share some thoughts on it. Code Word, a double-album, drops on Super Secret Records on Friday, and it's a big, sprawling, sometimes-messy-but-never-boring sort of record.

Some of this, like opener "Moon in the Daytime" and the supple "Queen Anne", sounds a whole lot like those solo albums Davies offered up to some quiet levels of acclaim a few decades ago. If this is chamber pop, it's a robust sort, the kind that suggests that Davies has been influenced by not only Davies (the other two), but also McGuinn. The punchy "Riptide" segues abruptly into some spoken word stuff, while the excellent "What If" seems a funked-up cousin to the best material on that one album from Cardinal. Oddly, despite a large list of players under his command here on Code Word, Davis seems more confident throughout this offering than he did on parts of the last excellent Moles release. And that gets at the crux of the difficulty in praising what is -- perhaps intentionally -- a disjointed collection.

Now, that's not to say that Code Word is more seamless overall, 'cause it's not, but, rather, to indicate that Davies' strengths as a singer and performer still positively leap out of the speakers as the selections on Code Word unfurl. While the title track is a jazz piffle, the blast of "Prison Girls" restores faith in this guy's chops once again. A rough beast that's part Stones, part GBV, the cut is one of the real highlights here, as is the lovely "After May", a Forster-ish ramble punctuated by the bleeps of a Stereolab single. Swinging between the lilting psych-folk of "Psych Folk" and the DIY rawk of "Cheaper To Keep Her" seems a bit insane, frankly, but Davies makes it work. Not once during Code Word was I anything less than charmed, and that's saying a lot for what is essentially a double-album.

Code Word is a slightly schizo release, but it's one that shows the genius of Richard Davies succeeding far more often than it fails. Assuredly adept and boldly out-of-step with expectations, this is a borderline-great record, and one that should please fans of Cardinal, Sebadoh (Boy Fay's on this too), and Seventies stuff like solo Harrison, Rockpile, Roxy, and Nick Lowe.

Code Word is out on Friday via Super Secret Records.