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diskant rewind: Etch-a-Sketch Yr Fear of AIDS #7

Posted: January 23rd, 2009, by Dave Stockwell

(Originally posted November 2004)

Etch-a-Sketch Yr Fear of AIDS by Dave Stockwell

DAVENPORT: A minor love letter

Dear beloved,

Let me introduce you to my favourite band of 2004. Personally speaking, these past twelve months have been pretty thin on the ground for ‘proper’ releases by bands on ‘proper’ CDs and vinyl, and slowly but surely I have found myself increasingly immersed within the ever-burgeoning world of ‘free’ music and homemade CDR labels. Thanks variously to the element of random chance and a couple of excellent UK-based distro kids (namely Melody Boa and Shoryobuni), I bought my first Davenport record a few months into this year, and was instantly smitten. Being the voracious music-consuming monster I can be (when meagre finances allow), I knew I had to seek out everything I could by this mysterious group. The problem was, as soon as I thought I’d managed to get everything I could, something new would pop up. Here’s a list of Davenport’s discography, as of 25 October 2004:

  • self titled CDR – limited to 20 copies (sold out on 23 Productions)*
  • Springtime on Saturnalia 3″ CDR (on PseudoArcana)
  • self titled c60 cassette – limited to 23 copies (sold out on 23 Productions)
  • Little Howling Jubilee 3″ CDR (on 267-Lattajjaa)
  • Loki’s War 4.6.04 – limited to 18 copies CDR (sold out on 23 Productions)
  • Free Country CDR – limited to 93 copies (sold out on Foxglove)
  • Sun Your Open Mouth 5.18.04 CDR – limited to 41 copies (sold out on 23 Productions)
  • split w/ Maths Balance Volumes CDR (sold out on 23 Productions)
  • split w/ Son of Earth CDR (out now on 23 Productions)
  • O, too high Ditty for my Simple Rhyme CDR – limited to 100 copies (sold out on Time-Lag)
  • Owl Movement CDR (sold out on 23 Productions)
  • split w/ Seen Through CDR (on Haamumaa)

I’m pretty sure all this came out this year. And then there’re at least a dozen more releases in the works. They might even squeeze out a couple of new CDRs before the end of the year. I certainly wouldn’t bet against it: there’s a whole two months to go just yet.

So who the fuck are these pricks? And how the hell have they managed to release so much material? And why do it in such ridiculously small quantities? Here’s the official bio from their website:

“Davenport was started in Madison, in the Summer of 2002. It was originally a vehicle for folk song experiments by Clay Ruby. By Fall [otherwise known as Autumn] of 2003 many others had been invited to participate in improvisations, rituals, and recordings with Davenport. Since then there has been a surge in activity and output.”

What this means is that Davenport is a loose collective with a rotating cast that revolves around Clay Ruby. Some releases have only a couple of contributors; others feature a massed army of new-psych pseudo-folk avant-dreamers, wielding anything they can get their hands on: guitars, organs, drums, kongas, vocals, all kinds of percussion, and an awful lot of stuff you can’t readily identify, which they probably picked up from the street on their way to practice. Inevitably, there’s a whole lotta on-the-spot experimenting and improvising going on. Davenport apparently record live pretty much every single one of their get-togethers and performances, and then pick the cream of the crop for release. What is so breathtaking is the range and sheer quality of the crop. Don’t get me wrong, Davenport aren’t some awful ‘genre-straddling’ bunch of electrotwats or Jamie Cullum or whatever his name is; it’s the depth of mood, feel and texture that they generate which allows for some fantastic diversity between recordings. Here’s a reverse-chronology guide (call it a whimsy) to a few selected highlights of the Davenport 2004 oeuvre (and roll on the new stuff, which I’m told is even better)…

Owl Movement (23 Productions) consists of a single 26-minute piece, improvised and recorded live to an audience in August. With an assemblage of nine musicians, Davenport this time around is a thick soup of noises both sympathetic and clashing, creating perhaps their most climactic and unearthly sound to date. The recording starts with an extended build-up as each player enters, shifting from wildly diverging noises to a more regimented drone marshalled by heavily rhythmic drums, thumps and bangs. About ten minutes in, the propulsive drumming is overwhelmed by a massed freakout with accompanying howls, and everything is broken down into haunting moans and murmurs not unlike those of Christina Carter (Charalambides/solo artist). Slowly, it builds in textural strength and volume again, until a racket of a multitude of instruments and booming drums once again create a thick wall of confusing and mildly unsettling sound. With five minutes to go, the rumbling breaks down into a sparser set of drones, cymbal crashes and portentous vocal warblings that slowly wind down until the audience breaks in with applause.

O, too high Ditty for my Simple Rhyme (Time-Lag) finds Davenport at their most resembling of Sunburned Hand of the Man, with the prominent use of whooping vocals and a shambling groove that takes its leisurely time to find its feet. What differentiates Davenport from their peers though is the lack of reliance on this rhythm to propel the track. A dizzying assortment of sounds and textures emerge freely from the performing group, riding roughshod over any heed for locking into any kind of formal association between percussion and melody. These two lengthy jams form simultaneously probably the most accomplished and skronk-heavy release that Davenport have unleashed to date, and would be highly recommended if they hadn’t already sold out in a matter of weeks.

Split with Son of Earth (23 Productions) is a complete contrast to their Time-Lag release: stripped down to a duo, Davenport’s single-track contribution Lyx Was is an exercise in electronic minimalism done über analogue-style, with lots of hum and buzz forming a hazy drone that is simultaneously dreamy and (mildly) punishing. Eventually the track blossoms out and a groggy guitar and voice find their way through the murk to push the track towards what is presumably one of Clay’s folk song experiments. The overall track is something of a minor epic journey, and feeds wonderfully into Sun of Earth’s microtonal forays that close the CD. All this and it comes packaged inside an envelope too. Nice.

Free Country (Foxglove) is remarkable because it most closely resembles that description that Davenport give of themselves (above). That is, it’s actually got a proper song on it and everything. With singing! And not too much in the way of intrusive free improvising over it! Scary – and slightly bewildering – stuff if you’ve come this far into their murky world of druggy transcendentalism. Maybe this moment harks back to their earliest days – I honestly don’t know. However, it’s also probably their cleanest and most polished production, and the longest thing they’ve done outside of that hour-long tape. It’s got a whole five tracks, all of which vary considerably in style and execution, and act as a nice introduction to some of the diverse feats of which the massed collective are capable.

Loki’s War (23 Productions) takes the biscuit in terms of limited edition releases. You might have noticed in the discography: only 18 copies made. Fucking eighteen?! If you see the damn thing you’ll realise why: it’s got a whopping great cross made out of gorgeously crumbling wood that’s been stuck together and slipped into the front of the slip case – which makes it impossible for any music geek to file away in a tidy shelf. Mine sits permanently and proudly on top of a pile of assorted CDs, always on display to open-mouthed visitors. I wouldn’t have it any other way. (Hopefully, Time-Lag will someday reissue this onto 350gram vinyl with a gatefold sleeve carved out of slabs of oak and hinged together to open up into a giant crucifix in a ‘pressing’ of six copies only. You know, just to get one up on Black Sabbath.)

Self-titled c60 (23 Productions) – If Davenport recordings are generally (and necessarily) pretty low on the audio fidelity scale, this release is probably the ultimate point of some fucked up lo-fi excursions. Or maybe it’s the fact that my only means of listening to a tape these days is through a £5 walkman bought from Kwik Save that runs progressively slower as the batteries run out. Whatever the case, I’ve had a couple of headfucks of extended walks with this tape in hand – the music contained within is dense, noisy and loooong – this is Davenport at their most EPIC. It sounds like it’s taken from their earlier days and is looser and more fragmented than I’m used to hearing, which is certainly no bad thing, and the dark skronk of the lo-fi tape format only adds to its beguiling gloomy trippyness.

Springtime on Saturnalia (Pseudo-Arcana) was the very first Davenport release I acquired, and is probably still my favourite of their recordings to date. Containing a more stripped-down and pastoral sound than anything else I’ve discussed here, these seventeen minutes feel more like a field recording that just happens to chance upon a guitar player and percussionists jamming halfway through. I can still remember the first time I listened to this thing, thinking how beautifully calm it was, but also wondering what was actually going on as these musicians patiently found their feet together. And then, after drawing me in, the percussion kicked into a beautifully mellow canter and the final seven minutes sent a ripple down my spine that rivals the rustic charms of the various Jewelled Antler projects of Loren Chasse (i.e. the album he did under the name of ‘Of’ which was my favourite album of last year). This CDR is absolutely sublime stuff – still recognisably Davenport, but at their most serene and at one with the natural world. Significantly, it’s one of the few releases that is still available. I urge you to investigate and invest.

And that’s it. Davenport: a scarily exciting band that are all-but impossible to keep pace with. I can’t wait to see where they’re heading next.


x x x

[*Please note that I don’t actually have this recording, and would kill to fill this gaping hole in my stash. If you can help in any way, please e-mail me, and I will find some way to compensate you for your enormous generosity.]

Dave Stockwell

David can always be relied on to end his e-mails with one of those 'np: blah blah' things in order to remind us of how much more music he listens to every day than anybody else. His interests include rockin ' out in a major style as guitarist in Souvaris, throwing frisbees from tall buildings "just to see what happens" and simply kickin' back with his bitches in a gold-plated jacuzzi.


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