Written by JB.
It took nearly a year to record his first proper LP (and almost twice as long to release), but Deathcard is the sweet fruit of singer/songwriter David Janes‘ tedious work. After a limited release of his Kill-a-man Sessions in early 2008, Janes spent months writing, recording, and mixing songs for the next record, only to scrap the majority of it and start anew. Backed by his live band, including Philadelphia studio-musicians Phil D’Agostino and long-time collaborator Nathan Gonzalez, as well as Rick Wise and Emily Shick, the nine songs on Deathcard represent a maturity in both sound and writing that Janes has undergone since striking it out on his own. Whereas previous songs tended to lean heavily on the more-adolescent musings of Ryan Adams contrasted by the dark-strum of 16 Horsepower, these tracks achieve an emotional gravitas akin to the material produced by Grant Lee Phillips and John Doe in their solo work.
While the music itself has broadened, employing boy-girl harmonies, glockenspiel and even musical saw, it’s the growth in Janes’ lyrics that are most refreshing: nights of staying out late and drinking too much, only to explain it to your significant other later that morning (“Philly Special”), or addressing those vices which keep you out and away in the first place (“Cover Us”). The track “Ghost Hotel” follows Janes from the Kill-a-man Sessions, but here receives a revived treatment which places more emphasis on embracing the redemptive powers of human interactions, rather than the frustration which comes along with asking (or hoping) for that redemption. And he has enough sense, thankfully, to realize redemption might not always be the thing that helps, as the song ends in haunting reverb to remind us there are always valleys after the peaks.
“JCM,” meanwhile, gives us the best insight into the songwriter’s new-found belief that he is, in fact, healing: stripped of any accompaniment other than a second acoustic guitar and Shick’s gorgeous harmonies, it showcases Janes admitting his battles (with love, with loss, with self-reliance) and his understanding that he won’t always win, but promising he’ll be back again and again to face them. As he closes the song, and the album, singing “If you could hear me, I’d stop talking,” it becomes clear David Janes isn’t giving up.
Download: “JCM” by David Janes