An Absence of 15 Years Doesn’t Spell a Death Knoll for The Deathray Davies

The Deathray Davies | Time Well Wasted | (We Know Better Records)
Four out of Five Stars

Naming themselves after Kinks helmsman Ray Davies was a wise choice given The Deathray Davies propensity for pure pop. Mainly, it showed that John Dufiho, the band’s erstwhile leader, did at least possess his fair share of earnest ambition. Notably then, this, the band’s’ first album in fifteen years, finds them still committed to the cause, even if the title, Time Well Wasted, otherwise indicates that the time elapsed between then and now might not have been all that well accounted for. On the other hand, even after that extended stretch of time, the final results indicate that in fact the music was well worth waiting for. 

“The timing just seemed right,” Dufiho reflects to American Songwriter. “I wrote these songs quickly, made demos, and sent them to Jason Garner, who is either our bass player or our drummer, depending on the year. He responded right away saying he loved them and that they sounded like The Deathray Davies. I’d been writing for other bands and these were the first ones in forever that sounded like The Deathray Davies. We’ve both been playing non-stop in different bands since 2006, when The Death Ray Davies decided to take a break… among other things, he’s been playing with the Polyphonic Spree. I, in turn, joined the Apples in Stereo on drums.”

It’s not that the band was ever idle. “We actually recorded a sixth record in our downtime,” Dufiho explains. “It’s a giant beautiful mess—40 songs, tons of experiments, collaborations…but i kind of lost my mind trying to get it right and then I jumped ship. I listened to it not too long ago, and I was surprised to find I loved it. I’m hoping to release that one next. Officially, we’re releasing record number seven now, and then we’ll go back and put out record number six.”

Indeed, while the new album doesn’t necessarily bear a direct correlation to ‘60s Brit rock—the track titled “You and Me Until the End” comes closest to hitting that mark— there’s no denying Difiho and company’s ongoing commitment to snappy, hook-laden power pop of a decidedly infectious variety. Songs such as “I’m In Love With Alexa,” “Medicine Head,” “Talking With Friends,” and “Don’t Let Me Fall” are both quirky and catchy, flush with the kind of choruses that immediately get under the skin and refuse to let go. They’re an imaginative bunch, sometimes impudent, and yet their knack for crafting snappy, sprightly melodies that share a generally upbeat attitude remains a constant throughout. While it’s not always clear what the songs refer to—titles like “They Took Your Brains Tonight” or “Lucas, I’m in Room 39” naturally obscure any obvious meaning—the entertainment factor never falters regardless.

“I never write songs with any band in mind,” Dufiho insists. “I generally just follow where the song wants to go, if that makes any sense. These songs are way more straightforward than what I’d do in the past. I wanted to make something big and direct, and not worry about trying to be clever.”

Dufiho wasn’t about to repudiate the past. “A few of the songs—‘Medicine Head,’ ‘Tapping on the X-Ray,’ ‘They Took Your Brains Tonight’—feel to me like they could have been on one of the older records, although a lot of it feels different to me, more stripped down, more direct. I was joking about calling the record “’Troubled Water’ because I realized after it was finished, that there’s not one bridge on it. I write songs for other people for a living, so maybe that’s given me a few different perspectives.”

Of course, the absence of a decade and a half does put them at a disadvantage when it comes to regaining the awareness and capturing the attention that Time Well Wasted so decidedly deserves. Still, once heard, its charms won’t be lost on anyone, be it a former fan or the newly converted. Absence may make the heart grow fonder, but it’s the music shared here that inevitably guarantees that conclusion.

“We’d been circling around America for six years,” Dufiho notes while looking back on the band’s extended absence. “We destroyed a few vans, opened for a lot of bands that I love—the Old 97’s, Starlight Mints, Superdrag, Breeders, Centro-matic, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Dressy Bessy, etc.— and so we never really treated it like a job, it was more of a no-sleep, drink all day kind of thing and at some point we realized we were losing the plot. We decided to stay home—just ‘for a bit’— and just record music.  Somehow that turned into 15 years. The last time we recorded together was probably 2004,  so it was crazy to set up, start playing, and immediately kind of feel like ‘oh yeah, there it is.’ It’s strange how that works.”

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