There’s so much new music out today, with so many new names that are digested and forgotten within the same year, that when a name makes headlines that’s been on your radar in some form before, it’s a relief. There’s a kind familiarity that entices you, while you’re also caught wondering if the music will indeed meet your expectations. When the name is associated with D.C.’s John Davis, listeners know they can expect a number of things, all of which might draw references to Q and Not U, Georgie James, Title Tracks, and now Davis’ latest endeavor with former fellow Q and Not U musician, Paint Branch.
John Davis and Chris Richards released Paint Branch’s debut record, I Wanna Live, on January 8. They took their new project’s name from a stream running through Montgomery County and Prince George’s County in Maryland. Their album cover is a basic depiction of the stream’s geography. Apparently the two musicians weren’t the only ones who were inspired by Maryland’s natural treasures because in 1969, Paint Branch High School in Montgomery County was named after the stream. The band jokes about this on Twitter, re-tweeting affectionate and negative tweets from Maryland’s high schoolers–none of whom know about Paint Branch the band.
I Wanna Live seemingly fell from nowhere out of cyberspace. There was a feature on EARMILK, a track premiere from SPIN, an early album review from the band’s local paper, some other bits of love, and then it was out, on full stream, on Bandcamp and other digital outlets. So there wasn’t too much hype around the record…we can assume they didn’t invest thousands in a PR team…and that’s how it always should be, right? Now the only part that is left in the equation is that people need to actually BUY the record now…
I Wanna Live is full of the music Davis’ and Richards’ fans would expect from the two talents during “this time” in their lives. What’s that mean? Well, Q and Not U formed back in 1998, way before many of the Pitchfork-reading fans of today were old enough to know their own musical likes and dislikes. Both musicians have gone on to play with other bands since their Q and Not U days, and numerous tours and releases have accompanied those projects. So now, fifteen years after the formation of Q and Not U, Paint Branch’s record is thick with nostalgia, carefully conducted harmonies, extremely catchy choruses…it’s like both guys know what works and they’re releasing music that they genuinely enjoy themselves.
The album’s two most-blogged-about songs, “Brighton Beach,” and “I Wanna Live” are the tracks that easily grab the listener the most. “Brighton Beach” is a concise, pounding, wistful song that pushes on about an old relationship and what it left behind at Brighton Beach. Warmer with energetic strums and lighter lyrics, “I Wanna Live” then takes the listener to a different place that sounds more carefree but also holds a certain nostalgia and yearning for something that will never really come back. “It’s a dream I won’t remember / It’s a vision I can’t see / It’s a love I know I’ll never get back / And it’s making a fool of me,” Richards sings. “I Wanna Live” is a prime example of this generation’s “classic rock” song done well; it’s relatable, inviting, and it’s a fantastic traveling song.
With two of the arguably best tracks at the beginning of the record, one might worry that the rest of the album doesn’t match up, but the other ten tracks capture much different sounds, rounding the album out smoothly. “Run” is an acoustic, winding extension of the first two tracks, except its simple melody is much more assuaging. “Take Your Time” introduces a light piano and a pleasantly optimistic chorus. “Cherry Blossom” is an incredibly catchy song that manages to dismiss an old love in an upbeat, poppy way. “Witnesses” features a slow-boiling doo-wop groove led by a floating electric guitar and jazzy percussion.
Another main highlight is track 7’s “Vanishing Act.” The guitar work is memorable and the refrain even more so. “Who could ever find their way back / From that kind of vanishing act,” Richards sings, resembling a young Elvis Costello. It’s a really strong song lyrically and instrumentally. By this point in the record, if you haven’t taken a moment to appreciate the band’s meticulous harmonies, you should do so now.
I Wanna Live ends with a synth-ed out, two-minute closing ballad, revisiting some of the more melancholic tones of the album. By the end of the record we’ve learned what Paint Branch is about, and after taking a closer look at the liner notes, it becomes clear how the chemistry of the band works. Davis wrote the softer songs while Richards wrote the harder ones, but both musicians complement each other as multi-instrumentalists. After multiple musical wardrobe changes over the years for both musicians as individuals, let’s hope this won’t be the only record we hear from this duo.