(Planet of Sound is a bi-weekly speculative-fiction music feature.)
Devin Davis moved to Chicago at the turn of the millennium, without any friends or musical connections in the city, and recorded his debut album over several years in a home studio, playing ten instruments and a giant gong along the way. He stuffed the album full to bursting with compact, propulsive guitar pop songs, wrote with a lyrical sensibility determined to find the humor in every heartbreak, and titled it, see above, Lonely People of the World, Unite!
Get it? Because if the lonely people of the world united, then….
Not all geeks are outsiders. Not all outsiders are geeks. But many were at one point, and if you drew that Venn diagram for those at the formative high-school age, I bet the circles would look nice and friendly with each other. So I’m not exactly surprised when Davis turns to the fantastic, surreal, and absurd for the imagery in his “anthemic ode to loneliness in its many forms”—though I am immensely pleased.
A strong, independent ex-girlfriend is conceptualized as a Viking raider in “Iron Woman.” A quarter-life crisis finds its articulation in conversation with the ghost of Everett Ruess (“When I Turn Ninety-Nine”). “Cannons at the Courthouse” is a cross-country dream-journey that splits the difference between Mark Twain and Jules Verne, ending up well outside the realm of either in a sort of crazy railroad spiritual.
And then there’s “Giant Spiders,” wherein Davis rides a nigh-flawless riff to a full-Fallout crescendo:
Never mind all the nuclear missiles,
leave that up to important officials
who can manufacture the press and
keep the peasants on anti-depressants.
Should they send their rockets a-flyin’
that’s one unique way to exit the world,
and if we’re curled up into a little ball
behind some thick lead walls
we should be fine if we can survive
the giant spiders!
But to focus on interpreting this tale of doomed love in the time of nuclear holocaust for, like, his apocalypse-survival tips would be missing the point. Davis clearly knows the references he’s making, but he’s not trying to be Jonathan Coulton (all respect to Jonathan Coulton).
So while I enjoy dystopian details like the “vast asbestos skies,” and the perfect expressionist-environmentalist couplet “Oh, the world feels colder today / I don’t care what the scientists say,” I think my favorite line on the track is not science-fictional at all—though it is scientific.
No I won’t sit still till I’m upside down
In the back of your eyes
Which is, of course, only an over-elaborate way of saying “No matter what, I’ll see you again.”
He repeats that line four times before ending on musical equivalent of the part where they say the name of the movie in the movie, so I think I’m justified in saying he likes it, too. There’s something about its silly, nerdy expression of a very simple, universal sentiment that gets at the heart of what Davis is trying to do. He’s willing to find loneliness funny. Love lost, funny. And he’s intent on helping listeners connect to and conceptualize these feelings the same way, mitigating the sting with songs that are just so much damn fun, despite their themes. And really, what better gift can you give the lonely than to replace their ache with laughter? Because isn’t that sort of overwrought, self-conscious loneliness a tad ridiculous, too, sometimes?
All of which is to say it’s not the tropes I love most in Davis’s music, it’s the whole approach of a smart person tackling unpleasant personal feelings and transforming them into art with the help of a geeky sense of humor and the same over-analytical brain that caused the problems in the first place. The giant spiders in his mind got him into this mess, and they will get him—and some of us—out of it again.
Okay, you know what, I may not actually be sure just what the giant spiders are supposed to represent, after all.
Joshua Starr is a fan of speculative fiction in all media. ALL MEDIA.