Greg Davis and Sebastian Roux
reg Davis has been mining this organic electronic (folktronica, electro-folk) schtick for several years now, and a quick glance at the Stylus archives will reveal a series of B+/B given to much of his work the past half-decade. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but his career is beginning to feel like the recent plight of the Philadelphia Eagles: consistently excellent, yet always just short of the big win. No doubt, a B+ score is nothing to scoff at, but how long is this guy going to hang on the precipice of greatness before he releases the genre-defining album that he’s fully capable of?
Sadly, Paquet Surprise, Davis’ collaboration with Sebastian Roux (an employee of the computer music institute IRCAM), is yet another trip to the conference title game predictably coupled with a close defeat.
Roux is a major factor here, contributing most of the lyrics and presumably handling most of the vocal duties as well. As a result, the songs here move away from the encompassing melodies that distinguished 2003’s Curling Pond Woods, and back into the pastoral (full disclosure: reviewers are contractually obligated to include the adjective “pastoral” at least three times in any Greg Davis review) psychedelia that dominated Davis’ first releases. Roux’s lyrics and melodies are childishly simple, and they prove a charming counterpoint to Davis’ compositional wizardry, both allowing him plenty of room to maneuver and preventing things from getting too complicated.
“I Never Met Her” is a clinic for anyone attempting to paste together the organic and synthetic. A heavily treated Roux hums the song’s title over a repeating acoustic guitar figure and sandy percussion. There is a film of computer noise over the entire track, but instead of dominating the mix, it simply enhances what would have otherwise been a pedestrian vocal take. And at three and a half minutes, the song still finds room for nearly a minute of fizzing coda. “I Never Met Her” takes both folk and electronica’s base urges and combines them, a modest mix that fetches exhilarating returns.
The remainder of Paquet also succeeds, though not quite as brilliantly. “Good Decision” comes closest, feeding off another naïve Roux vocal as babbling keyboards flow in the background. “Daybreak” brings all the right fixin’s but forgets to stir: A beautiful melody sacrifices lyrical heft (“Will you come with me / To see the wonderful world”) for stark repetitive trance, but lasts only for a minute before Davis rolls out several miles of voiceless electronics. “Tidal Pool” is the album’s 13-minute centerpiece, and it climaxes brightly with a huge, sustained organ chord before succumbing to a lengthy electronic outro.
The only track that truly fails to muster any excitement is the untitled album closer, a shapeless ambient piece that feels limp and underdeveloped. And don’t Brian Eno me this and Kevin Shields me that: Davis is a masterful composer who has consistently drawn excellent collaborators (check this year’s Keith Fullerton Whitman hookup), and it’s time to stop expecting greatness and start demanding it. Roux feels underused here—his vocal compositions serve as the clay for the album’s finest explorations, and his absence often signals the moments where Davis simply spins his wheels. Like any chronic near-champion, Davis’ window to truly make a statement will eventually close: A style he helped pioneer has been mercilessly ripped off, and despite continued strong efforts, he’s in danger of losing ground to fresher faces. Davis is a standard bearer for quality, but his string of near-misses is as maddening as it is impressive.