Joe Davis

Hope Chest

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Elliott Smith ushered in the late-'90s wave (though it never actually became a widespread trend) that saw former punk and indie kids go acoustically and wistfully adult. Joe Davis did precisely that on this debut solo album, a pretty radical but lovely departure from the noise rock of his band the Pinehurst Kids. Like Smith and several others (Jeremy Enigk, Steve Tagliere), Davis mines an extremely introspective vein with a near-childlike innocence that cannot, nevertheless, conceal the easily wounded, sensitive artist beneath the seemingly callused skin. It can be an almost painful listen at times, as if you are witnessing a spirit in the process of being broken or seeing a person try to deny that they are hurt even though it is obvious that they are, although Davis does nothing to cover or sugarcoat his anguish ("Cleo/I'm hurting"). But his falsetto warble also renders emotions that are complex, moods that cannot be easily simplified or untangled ("when you hurt me/I feel sexy"). Sentiments that could have been so personal and intimate that they came off as insular are instead turned into fleshy, human realities that anyone in their most nostalgic or vulnerable moments can relate to. Occasionally the topics lean toward bathos, intentional heartstring pullers (a grandfather who succumbs to Alzheimer's disease, a childhood illness). But even those are generally handled well, and Davis does it all with enough minor-key pensiveness to make the music seem all the more affecting, even when he turns the amps up a couple notches and shreds his guitar (as on the final "Running"). None of the songs here stand out exactly, but the sum total creates a tapestry of pretty, direct heartache that requires, and deserves, revisiting.

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