Maybe you’re wondering why the name “John Davis” sounds familiar. (Or maybe you’re not—that’s one of the most anonymous names ever.) If you paid attention to indie rock or college radio in the ‘90s, or were alive and aware of pop music in 1995, the name might be kicking around in the dusty recesses of your mind. Don’t bother with Wikipedia—there are like five over there but none of them are this guy, who is best-known as the half of the Folk Implosion that isn’t Lou Barlow.
The Folk Implosion, of course, had a top 40 hit in 1995 with “Natural One,” a song that sounds almost nothing like anything else the two made. Barlow was better known, but Davis put out a few albums of lo-fi acoustic singer/songwriter biz on Shrimper and the Communion label back in the ‘90s, before, after and during his stint in the Implosion.
He also backed up Will Oldham in Palace Brothers for a spell. Between Barlow, Oldham and Shrimper he was connected to three crucial pillars of that early ‘90s lo-fi homemade acoustic scene. This is to say he had bona fides. And then he basically dropped out of music, or at least the public eye, in 1997.
Spare Parts is his first album in 16 years, and the defining element of its 60-plus minutes is that absolute lack of any kind of a rush. This is a slow, long, halting affair that sounds like it could’ve been made today, or 16 years ago, or (minus a few digital squiggles here and there) 40 years ago. Songs like “Upon a Train” stretch out past the seven-minute mark; “Shine Upon Me Like The Moon” exceeds 10 minutes. Davis’s thin, high voice hangs above the hushed music. His sparse acoustic songs sound barely structured, like something off Big Star’s third album, and are often embellished with strings and pedal steel and female back-up singers.
Negative space and natural reverb are as important as any of the actual notes or instruments, along with ambient sounds (like from the room he is in, not like Aphex Twin.) It sounds like Lambchop with a tenor. There’s a warmth here, an assured tenderness, and a sense not of depression but of tired resignation. Spare Parts sounds on the verge not of collapsing but of just sputtering out, Davis’s energy slowly dwindling away alongside his hope before nodding off briefly in the middle of a song. It’s late night headphone music for soulful pondering.