-Us Finds Happiness on New EP Contact

Avery Davis, a.k.a. -Us, at Day For Night 2016.
Avery Davis, a.k.a. -Us, at Day For Night 2016.
Photo by Marco Torres
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Featured in Houston CityBook’s music issue earlier this year, Avery Davis reflected on -Us’s debut EP’s ruminative ode to failed relationships, V.XXVII.IX, reliving the core sentiments and sacred narratives once shared only between two lovers, now shared with strangers each night he performed them live. V.XXVII.IX’s five carefully woven songs often made for joyless gigs. As his mood shifted from heartache to happiness, the direction of his music needed to reflect his recent disposition instead of the sad-bastard routine.

“I’m not sad anymore, so all of my new songs are happy.”

Happy? Certainly. Yet more noticeable than the kinder, gentler temperament on -Us’s new EP Contact is Davis’s development as a songwriter. Strip away the synths; sit him on a wobbly barstool on a beer-soaked stage armed with only an acoustic guitar and a microphone. Other than the shapes and timbre of Contact’s five compositions, the songs will remain the same: heartfelt, ecstatic, contented.

The glorious, synth-heavy intro of “We First Started” elicits sharp, joyous echoes of M83’s Saturdays=Youth, a stark contrast from -Us’s previous EP’s opener, “Sing.” The clean guitar lead connects the synth swells, creating a boundless landscape, that is, until the chorus shatters the softened tones and whispered delivery of its verse. Where Davis laments the end of love on V.XXVII.IX, he embraces the beginning of it: “Feels like we finally start to fall in love.”

Serenity in songs often feels shallow. The steady stream of water and sparsely picked guitar notes that sound like leaves caught in a breeze’s grasp resemble serenity on “Hewlitt”; yet the four-on-the-floor drum pattern and early house synths layered on top of are deceptive. The speaker reflects the song’s tenuousness, trying to recover the words that escape him. The arpeggiated lead synth stabs through “Hewlitt’s” uncertainty – a notable motif found in synthpop that often brings a musical resolution to an unresolved situation.

And even more noticeable on Contact is its slick production value. V.XXVII.IX buried the vocals, understating the ebullient choruses found on its middle tracks. Contact is sonically superior to his previous EP, mixed by Third Coast Recording Company’s John Allen Stephens and mastered by Sugarhill Studios’ Chris Longwood. In capable hands, the EP’s single, “Shadows,” allows his acoustic playing to accompany the song’s synth-heavy foundation, reminiscent of the hybrid electro-acoustic performances found on New Order’s Technique. Moreover, it permits Davis’s layered vocals to take precedence over the track’s instrumental nuances, blending with them, not bleeding through them the way they did on its predecessor.

Cautious, Contact’s happiness came out on the other side of a failed relationship. Thus, don’t confuse his happiness with naiveté. “Without You” expresses a confidence not found in -Us's previous effort. The infectious chorus anticipates the possibility of failure, as Davis pleads that he cannot go on without his lover. But as they enter the booth to take pictures, hoping to savor the happy times together, he knows that it could be far from permanent. The track’s ambivalence gives it the charm of a delightful pop song with a cautious message masked by its optimistic melodies. Therein lies the oversimplification of the genre. Take one listen to OMD’s Architecture and Morality and discover how they lull listeners into their world while making them sing morbid messages without ever catching on to their meanings.

Contact’s self-titled track entices with R&B tropes, but feels entirely out of place with the EP’s previous four songs. It signals a direction in which -Us anticipates going, considering Davis’s intense love for the recently departed Prince. Even though it bears the EP’s name, and it best articulates the EP’s theme of connection, it misses the same sonic resilience that came before it.

In the end, Contact showcases a developing songwriter comfortable in his medium. As he ventures forth to perform these tracks at FPSF and other shows around the country, festival-goers and the like will get to witness the portrait of the artist as a young man – Davis is only 24 years old – still wading his way through the day-to-day complexities of finding love while, even more important, trying to maintain it once it is found.

-Us performs at 12:20 p.m. Saturday, June 3 on FPSF's Mercury Stage. Stream the new EP on Spotify and Apple. More festival info at fpsf.com.

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