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Published: 2006/01/12
by Mike Greenhaus

Only in Montreal EP – Surprise Me Mr. Davis

Someone recently described The Slip as a jamband for people who have outgrown jambands. But, more accurately, The Slip is a band that has grown along with jambands, having originated as high-school friends, matriculated into a trio of Berklee-educated jazz experts and, eventually, slimmed into the indie-rock outfits which clothe the group’s side project with singer/songwriter Nathan Moore, Surprise Me. Mr Davis.

A short, edgy seven-song EP laid down during a five-day recording push at Canada’s The Breakglass Studio in September, the Only in Montreal EP is essentially a fossilized look at Surprise Me Mr. Davis’ sound circa late 2005. Originally conceived as a more lyrically, singer/songwriter-oriented counterpart to The Slip’s free, jazz-influenced improvisations, Surprise Me Mr. Davis’ self-described electro-folk now seems to parallel the group’s current brand of indie fare, with Moore stepping in as the trio’s frontman and vocal focal point.

Lyrically, Surprise Me Mr. Davis’ words echo its musical ethos. “Everything Must Go,” the Only in Montreal EP’s opening number, is a tale of change and evolution, bookended by Moore’s slightly modern rock vocals. But, in between, the track contains a short, trademark solo by Slip guitarist Brad Barr, only paved over by an urban grit. A similar layer of urban renewal covers “Poor Boy,” a slow, folk-ballad pumped with surprisingly punk-like energy thanks to Only in Montreal’s pure analog approach—- perhaps its best production decision. It’s this lo-fi recording technique which gives the Only in Montreal EP its underground edge, accenting Moore’s lo-fi alt-country drawl and allowing The Slip’s improvisations, which echo Wilco through its free-guitar breakdown.

Likewise, the harmonica showcase of “I Hate Love” sounds both old-time and modern — a perfect balance between gypsy-jazz and indie-pop. As expected, Surprise Me Mr. Davis stretches furthest out on “Fat King of Gods,” a live track attached to the group’s proper recordings. But, while the seven-minute plus improvisation echoes the Slip in terms of its above-par musicianship, Barr’s guitar style owes more to 60s-era Dylan swagger than his own jazz-oriented style. A demo reading of the concert staple “Sleepy Head,” comfortably placed at the end of the EP, further emphasizes the disc’s unpolished feel — a consciously loose style which seems to echo the collective’s unkempt sound.

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