Something has to be said about the artists who stay true to themselves. If you take a look at music history, the most interesting artists are the ones who refused to be shaped and molded by mainstream conventions and what’s popular on magazine covers. Even chameleons such as Prince or David Bowie, who could change their style and genre by the end of this sentence, couldn’t be bothered by trying to keep up with what the media considered ‘cool’. Not selling themselves out for the sake of popularity doesn’t always mean they’ll change the way music is heard or spark a media revolution but there’s still a certain sense of bravery and defiance that’s missing in modern secular music.
This authenticity is the mission statement of The Lees Of Memory.
The Lees Of Memory are a Nashville supergroup of sorts featuring John Davis and Brandon Fisher of Superdrag, and Nick Slack of Epic Ditch. Their Nick Raskulinecz produced debut Sisyphus Says was a sleeper hit of 2014, and easily the best album to come out of the shoegaze revival movment of the last decade. Along with their subsequent vinyl-only EPs released throughout 2015, the band has made it clear they are more than an off-shoot side project but a legitimate full functioning band. Unlike their troubled band-vs-label drama that plagued the first few albums of Superdrag, Davis and Fisher have decided to do things on their terms. Writing and recording music they want to make and releasing it how they see fit.
On the new album Unnecessary Evil, The Lees Of Memory switches gears from the wall of noise shoegaze of Sisyphus Says and go straight into something a bit more comfortable in line with the last Superdrag album. The opening track “Any Way But Down” is equal parts “Feel The Pain” from Dinosaur Jr and “One By One”-era Foo Fighters, showcasing a completely different vibe from previous album as well as the EPs leading up to this album’s release. “No Power” switches things up yet again with a far more aggressive sound, and probably the heaviest thing Davis has written in 30+ years as songwriter.
Not everything is aggression and fury though, the Bandfinger-esque “XLII” features all the sugar coated harmonies any decent power-pop song could ask for, and a delicious George Harrison inspired guitar riff making it the best song Superdrag never recorded. The Lees Of Memory have dipped their toes in the shoegaze waters on the Fisher lead “Just For A Moment” and briefly flirt with country fried southern rock on “Stay Down”. Even when the album slows down with it’s only ballad “The End Of The Day”, there’s enough guitar and vocal layers to keep it from being predictable or boring.
As heard with their EPs, experimentation is a big part of The Lees Of Memory mythos.
With so much emphasis on power pop melodies and good old fashioned rock n roll, there’s isn’t much room on the album for psychedelics except for one song “Artificial Air”. Starting out as another aggressive rock anthem found earlier on the record, it builds tension all the way up to it’s chorus before ripping into a one-chord jam of droning guitars, sitar riffs and sonic experimentation. It’s one of the most interesting songs on the album and probably the most ambitious rock song Davis and Fisher have come up with since Superdrag’s unsung 1998 masterpiece Headtrip In Every Key
The biggest surprise the album has to offer is “Squared Up”. A beautiful acoustic guitar riff coupled with My Bloody Valentine meets The Beatles vocals, works it’s way into a chorus with lush string arrangements, followed by an innocent piano solo. There’s even an unexpected country-esque pedal steel that adds Nashville flavor throughout the second half rounding out one of my favorite songs Davis has written throughout the years.
The fearlessness of recording a rock album that features strings, sitars, and pedal steel, is what makes The Lees Of Memory such an interesting band.
Unnecessary Evil is an album written, produced and performed by artists who aren’t afraid of going against the grain or trends of mainstream popularity. They stay true to who they are by playing to their strengths which in turn gives them the freedom to experiment in ways fans aren’t expecting. If you’ve followed Superdrag over the years, you’ll see there’s nothing on this album that’s outside Davis’s wheelhouse but it still manages to be fresh and unique. Despite sounding almost nothing like their 2014 debut, this isn’t a band searching for their identity but a group of individuals who aren’t afraid to go on the ride their creativity is taking them on.
It’s a satisfying journey for long time fans and new listeners alike, and my personal favorite album of the year.