About Benjamin Lazar Davis
WHAT IF I is the brand new single from New York indie pop artist Benjamin Lazar Davis and is released December 1st 2020 on Reveal Records.
WHAT IF I is taken from Benjamin’s forthcoming album (due Spring 2020)
Listening to New York indie pop artist Benjamin Lazar Davis is like experiencing the world through technicolor sunglasses, especially on his new self-titled album. Packed with orchestral woodwinds, organic electronics, and endlessly creative hooks, his sophomore full-length sounds like the overlap of Sufjan Stevens’ Age of Adz with The Flaming Lips’ At War with the Mystics. While the creation of these songs came naturally to him—Davis studied music at a conservatory growing up and spends his career playing in bands like Okkervil River and Cuddle Magic—it was the hat trick of getting everything else to fall into place that required a surprising mix of prepwork and wishful thinking.
“In order to write, I have to trust the process, in part because the process is always all over the place,” explains Davis. “It’s like those plastic marble tube mazes you made as a kid. You get everything set up, you know which instruments are in the studio, you know who’s there to help, and all those restrictions. Then you drop the marble in. You don’t know which route it’ll take, but you know that it’ll be cool when you see it on the other side.”
Benjamin Lazar Davis, the follow-up to his 2018 debut Nothing Matters, is the byproduct of expansive, mood-boosting hangout sessions with a coterie of longtime friends and established musicians. “It almost feels like something that happens by accident, where we all get together to hang out and then wind up writing a song,” says Davis. By collaborating with Lake Street Dive bassist Bridget Kearney, Rubblebucket bandleader Alex Toth, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros pianist Mitchell Yoshida, and many more, Davis was able to fill his original material with welcome ideas, with people contributing melodies, instrumentation, lyrics, and more wherever it seemed to fit. The result is a technically tricky but musically fluid set of tracks that showcases Davis’ intuition as a solo artist as well as his open-mindedness as a collaborator.
The album’s purest moments of grandeur occur when Davis lets his voice soar freely, like on “What If I” or “Nebraska Valentine.” It’s a vocal glow-up that’s impossible to ignore, in part because it came at a scary price. Midway through the songwriting process, Davis developed a severe case of bronchitis and a vocal nodule, a benign growth that briefly jeopardized the use of his voice. “There was a scary moment where I learned I may never sing again,” says Davis. “I did tons of physical therapy, worked on the way I talked, changed my singing technique, just so much. Now I’m a better singer than I’ve ever been because of that, but it meant delaying things on the album more than half a year as a result.”
After clearing that hurdle, Davis tapped producers Lars Horntveth and Luke Moellman to help bring a sleek element to the overall sound of Benjamin Lazar Davis without indulging in full-blown studio tricks. To do this, Davis pointed to the hypnotic ambiance of tracks that prioritize melody over percussion. “I wanted to make a record that didn’t have a lot of drums, so I sent a list of songs that really captured that well, like ‘White Ferrari’ by Frank Ocean, ‘Death with Dignity’ by Sufjan Stevens, ‘Twice’ by Little Dragon, ‘Everything Means Nothing to Me’ by Elliott Smith,” he says. “I’m really interested in melodies, especially how they can direct the rhythm of a song. I wanted to play around with that here, and I think they both understood that really well.”
Benjamin Lazar Davis is a playful, detailed, and sophisticated listen that whisks listeners away from the opening verse of “Snow Angels.” There was more ground to be covered, though, and Davis was up to the challenge — hence the existence of its accompanying EP. Joined by a new slate of artists like Samia, Monica Martin, and Eamon O’Leary, Davis uses the additional five-song release as a space to explore his other musical skills. At the heart of both records, though, is “I Bet You’re Fucking,” a subtle call-out track that sees Davis skating across a crisp guitar melody and waves of cushioned bass. It’s the single that reintroduces Davis as a solo artist, but more importantly as a musician worth paying attention to. After years of contributing to the indie rock landscape in bands, he steps out of the shadow here to show off his understanding of music’s most intricate elements, all while distilling them into the pure high that only pop melodies could deliver.