The effect that Jed Davis’ liner notes can have on the unsuspecting reader is not unlike the effect his actual music can have on the uninitiated listener. Like, really? Tunes on this album were written for Blondie, stolen by Green Day, penned at 2 AM in a Hotel Chelsea bathroom and tracked with legendary rockers Anton Fig and Reeves Gabrels? [Sound of spit-take.] How is this dude not, like, vomiting on adoring fans a la Justin Bieber?
So, you pop in your copy of Jed’s latest, Small Sacrifices Must Be Made!, and you scratch your head, because what you’re hearing sounds like the Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back,” except the lyrics are about a titular babysitter angry that the kid he’s watching set the cat on fire. It’s funky and all but you’re like, really, that’s David Bowie’s guitarist soloing through a synthesizer effect after the line “Billy, don’t piss on the rug”? But then you remember Jed’s warning in the notes about his dislike of small children and square the thing long enough to cue up the next track, a piano-driven anthem to Emily Dickinson.
This is all to say, Jed Davis takes some getting used to. It’s not that the music is in any way disagreeable. In fact, the production on this new record is sterling and Davis’ chord progressions, harmonic voicings, etc., are showbiz-polished with no shortage of horns, strings or bombast in the rhythm section. His tone can be incredibly hard to read though. Between the Cake-rapped vocals of “Two-Thirds,” an a cappela thank-you note for a first date titled “Question,” and epic Tenacious-AC/DC cowbell rocker “Ride the Party Bus,” you’ll want to chalk this one up as a novelty album. And, true, Davis’ comedy is smart, often subtly delivered in the manner of cohort Brian Dewan, and really funny. “Secret Prestrictions From the Past” is a flat-out brilliant piece of Zappa-esque satire (athough the notes credit the Dead Milkmen as inspiration), skewering a pretentious poet “dude” with spoken-word verses and choral punctuation. But then Sacrifices drops a track like “The Knowing Ones” with its elementary-school music teacher piano part or “Lose Me Forever,” and Davis’ voice sounds vulnerable, earnest, delivering wistful lyrics about a family heirloom, and you’ve got to toss out everything you’d assumed about this record.
Only, this too Jed has prepared us for. Described as a record exploring the passage of time, Sacrifices was largely penned by a teenage and 20-something Davis and then shelved (on demo tracks in his Roland keyboard) until this year, when the 30-something had this all-star band to record it (largely from each member’s remote studio situations). He’s the first to admit how crazy this idea sounds: “When you collaborate with a much younger version of yourself, you are technically working with somebody who no longer exists.” Which may explain the sense of confusion a listener might have encountering the schizo material for the first time.
The record’s cover art depicts Otto Lilienthal, who developed some of the 19th century’s first gliders by testing them on himself. The title is Lilienthal’s last words after crashing one such invention. It’s unlikely that Davis will suffer a similar fate through his projects, but he might induce a bit of that nervous vertigo that bystanders of Lilienthal must have felt. It also makes the whole thing that much more worth it when a track like “Symbiosis” catches an updraft and totally takes off. See for yourself when Davis celebrates the album’s release this Saturday at the Hudson River Coffee House.