Review: Benjamin Lazar Davis – Nothing Matters

Rolling in with an immediate 1960s psychedelia vibe, replete with flute pads and affected vocals, Benjamin Lazar Davis’ latest release Nothing Matters seems at first to belie its bleak title. Opening song ‘A Love Song Seven Ways’ is a laid back and sunny track, hooks floating by like scenic clouds in an otherwise clear blue sky. Davis’ gently soulful voice and indie folk sensibilities call to mind the likes of Jonathan Wilson, though there is a great musicality here that occasionally stops just short of slipping into the tripped-out psych of Connan Mockasin. The heartbreak held within the lyrical content is carried over softly and in a very human way, but this is not a typically ‘sad’ album by any means; rather, Nothing Matters is a gradual unfolding of complex emotion in simple, broad strokes.

There is a subtle lilt in the odd time changes of ‘Right Direction’, yet more pronounced on the following acoustic-led foot-tapper ‘Life is Dangerous’. Soft synth pads creep in, adding a modernising sheen to ‘Right Direction’s chorus and extra depth to everything from here onwards. ‘Somebody’s Speaking For Me’ is where a morose streak starts to properly cut through, but this track still does not give in fully to musical sorrow. More synth lines, bass effects and electronic drums continue to underpin the music without taking away from the organic feeling carried by the guitars and vocal delivery throughout.

The rolling musicbox loop of ‘Irene’ adds a hint of post rock experimentation to proceedings, and this marks a change towards a more textured approach to songwriting. Beats become sparser in the remainder of the album, and this and the following title track do an effective job of authentically sobering the mood and slowing the tempo, culminating in the complete wash of ‘Brass Tacks’. Shades of Fleet Foxes colour the opening to ‘Choosing Sides’, before it heads off in a headier, dreamier and more retro direction.

As the title might suggest, ‘Lies’ is the most overtly melancholic track here, but its gorgeous sadness feels more like sombre acceptance and closure than heartbrokenness; the culmination of an outpour of emotion. This makes the appropriately named ‘Acquitted’ a pleasantly predictable, simple track of freedom and looking ahead, as if Davis is walking towards the sunset and into the future.

Nothing Matters is not the album you might expect from hearing its opening. This album is an immersive journey if you give it the attention it requires. However, it does not demand this attention; this is music that can pass you by as a pleasant background haze if you’re not in the mood to look for the intricacies and effective moods that sit beneath the surface.

Richard Spencer

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