In recent years—his solo era, we might call it—Ben Davis has focused on texture and mood, dripping somber songs through lush arrangements and ignoring the jarring angularity of his work in Sleepytime Trio and Milemarker. Indeed, for two LPs and a split with Des Ark, strings flowed behind guitars, forming clouds instead of flashing lightning. The music was pleasant and interesting enough, but it missed the urgency of Davis' earlier outfits. Even his admittedly poppy post-Milemarker band, Bats & Mice, was wound tighter than that solo material.
Let's consider that solo era, then, as a period of woodshedding for Davis, during which he developed his songwriting and explored new ideas on the path to Charge It Up!, the first Ben Davis LP to include his Jetts. Lessons learned from albums past—the solo era's layered, poppy shoegaze and the jagged rhythms and slashing guitars of Davis' post-punk bands—unequivocally make Charge It Up! the best of Davis' most recent work.
Charge It Up!'s guitars lead. The band builds atmosphere only so that the guitars may tear through it with a sharp riff. Synthesizers burble and buzz, racing astride the guitars and in front of the fittingly charged rhythm section. Davis' pinched voice likewise rises to the occasion, borrowing timbre from Ted Leo and stretching its limitations—occasionally for the worse, but mostly for the better. The busy arrangements shift suddenly, making space a rare commodity for these Jetts. But the well-designed pieces—led by the melodies Davis adds over top—fit.
This marriage of melodic maturity and textural density to abrupt shifts and exaggerated counterpoints lends Charge It Up! the excitement and energy Davis' late-career albums have lacked. This is, if nothing else, the logical culmination of Davis' ouevre to this point. More than that, though, it's the record that returns this indie rock veteran to more than "formerly of Milemarker and Sleepytime Trio" status.
Ben Davis and the Jetts pair with Fin Fang Foom for a joint CD-release party at Local 506 Saturday, Nov. 14, at 10 p.m. The show is free, and Maple Stave opens.