-Us Creates Dance Music For Difficult Breakups
Photo by Mark C. Austin
Jackson Pollack once said that "Painting is self-discovery. Every good artist paints what he is."
The Houston artist known as -Us is in pursuit of making music that reflects who he truly is. Certainly, what multi-instrumentaist Avery Davis has done is to distill the finer points of great -80s synthpop bands like New Order, Xymox, Soft Cell and Pet Shop Boys into something emotionally raw and relevant. His first EP as -Us, V.XXVII.IX., is a promising first step in the process of earnest artistic self-discovery.
Older listeners wax nostalgic for magical moments music once held when they were young. Here, I remember hearing "Plainsong" by the Cure when Disintegration was released in 1989. I can remember riding in my friend's Datsun 280z during an overcast day when he slid the tape into the deck, a perfect setting for a band well-known for its melancholy mopery.
What happened next was nothing short of otherworldly.
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Filled with mystery and intrigue,the codeine-slowed tempo of "Plainsong" felt never-ending. Windchimes fortuitously clanging together forged one of rock music's greatest intros. For the next five minutes I lived inside of the song's bleak narrative and wanted to remain there forever. When the song ended, I rewound the tape and played it again. Repeat ad infinitum.
Fast forward nearly 26 years later. Cynicism and snobbery created nearly impenetrable barriers, guarding against the possibility for magic to happen again. The night I went to Fitzgerald's to review a show featuring Android Genius, -Us and Josiah Gabriel, I walked up to Davis, a veritable one-man band, and told him that I enjoyed his performance, especially his synth cover of the Replacements' "Swingin' Party." Following a brief conversation, he handed me a copy of V.XXVII.IX.
I left Fitzgerald's and headed to my car, and once inside slid in the CD. That's when the revelation hit.
V.XXVII.IX. is a meditation on a long-term relationship that, like many relationships, meets its demise. Unprepared for how to handle the catastrophe that follows, V.XXVII.IX. emotionally implodes at times. Like someone spending time with a loved one during their final days in hospice, helplessness overwhelms the EP's tone.
"Open" begins playfully. Everything on the surface sounds fine: a typical day filled with moments easily taken for granted. 80s-styled synths gambol lightheartedly, teasing the possibility of an equally lighthearted single emerging. But disappointingly, vocals fail to appear, something -Us does purposefully. Beneath the surface of "Open" lies the resistance to admit something terrible is about to occur. Ironically, the song is more an ending than it is a beginning, and the EP is simultaneously miserable and joyful, feigning joy when miserable and vice versa.
Story continues on the next page.
According to Avery Davis, V.XXVII.IX. is the date he and his ex-girlfriend began their relationship, which "Sing for Me" begins to recognize is doomed. The vocals, although too understated in the mix, sound inconclusive and uncertain of where and when everything went wrong. The initial sound of joy disintegrates into lonely block chords and melancholy vocal harmonies; the calm after the argument. Accenting the whispered falsetto are sparse beats that create an angst-ridden tone. Before the song concludes, a brief explosion occurs. M83-inspired rhythms punctuate the speaker's unwillingness to let gently accept the inevitable.
"Pieces" is beautiful, yet irritated, with low-register keys that support the understated vocals, yet lack the same emotional impact of "Sing for Me." The song breaks from its quiet meditative repose, exploding in the center, layered with chromatic keyboard riffs that transcend the EP's '80s influence. More blues than synth-pop, the song carries a heavy weight that, like "Sing for Me," never quite finds closure.
"Smile" explodes like M83's "Midnight City." It is V.XXVII.IX.'s obvious single. But it is this city's best single to date. Simple, heartfelt, and uncompromising, its slowed disco beat is met with a memorable pre-chorus, "Whoa-ah-oh-ah-oh" and a sweet hook that is both touching and hopeful. A tremolo-picked guitar solo accents the song's near perfect feel, ending more resolved than any other track on the all-too-brief EP.
-Us nearly creates the perfect EP if it had closed with "Smile" instead of "Finale," which feels and sounds out of place. However, when ending it with "Smile," accepting the effects of bitter breakup never sounded so good.
-Us will perform alongside FLCON FCKER, Knifight and George West at tonight at Boondocks, 1417 Westheimer.
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