“Depending on whether you know John Davis from his solo records or his tenure with the Folk Implosion, you’ll either know him as a vocal performer or an artisan of grooves. If you head to the guy’s website or listen to his last record, 2017’s El Pulpo, you’ll find that his command of language endures; he has a lot to say about food, politics, corporate encroachment and the ongoing effort that it takes to be human. But if you listen closely to his records, you’ll find that they are studded with marvelous little guitar moments, licks that jump out, snag your ear and drag you into the songs that they serve.

Gnawing On The Bone is Davis’ guitar record, but the album’s title also says something about his compositional approach. He’ll play a phrase, then take it from another angle, then layer it and mull it over some more. He can pick out a tune, but the same stop/start dynamics that show up in his songs often win out over melodic elaboration. And while he sticks to acoustic guitar, he uses overdubbing, delays and a good old-fashioned slide to expand its sonic footprint. There’s plenty to chew on here, whether you come at this record motivated by interest in Davis or his instrument.” – Bill Meyer, Magnet Magazine, Essential New Music, September 2019

“John Davis stopped playing music in public for a while after quitting Folk Implosion in 2000.  He was still writing songs and slowly returned to active performing to support his sporadic solo albums, most notably Spare Parts in 2013.  His day job – teaching at a culturally diverse high school – inspired this new project, a political song cycle that uses the food industry as a metaphor for the problems of capitalism, colonialism, and racial inequality that we face on a daily basis.

The songs are lyrically dense, laying bear the shady rationalizations that support the easy life most of us in the U.S. enjoy.  Davis has crafted an album full of slow, stirring melodies and tension-filled arrangements that deliver the alarming information he wants to import in a visceral way.  After listening to El Pulpo, you’ll never be able to visit a supermarket or add sugar to your coffee with a clear conscience.” — j. poet, Magnet Magazine, December 2017, 9/10 stars.

“On El Pulpo, John Davis & The Cicadas assess the human cost of corporate corruption and greed within the food industry using clattering art-pop. Davis, best known for his work in Folk Implosion with Lou Barlow, was inspired by Raj Patel’s book Stuffed and Starved, about the global cost of corporate food monopolies. As a teacher in Durham, North Carolina public schools, Davis has students in his classes whose parents emigrated from countries impacted by the deleterious practices of resource- and labor-hungry American restaurant chains and food companies. El Pulpo, then, is a work of nonfiction—a really, really catchy work of nonfiction.

“Coca-Cola, you’re at public schools / Talking Congress down from health code rules,” Davis sings on the upbeat, percussive “Coca-Cola.” Throughout El Pulpo, Davis inverts marketing and advertising techniques, using slogans and brand name repetition to subvert their respective corporations. “Who Milks the Cow?” plays like a sound collage recorded in a mechanical zoo, and in this nightmare soundscape Davis recites corporate names like a beat poet reading the signs in a strip mall: Del Monte, Little Caesar’s, Pizza Hut, Papa John’s. “The whistle blows, it’s halftime,” he rhymes in a sort of slacker-rap voice, articulating the knee-jerk effects of nonstop advertising. As the weird little song fades, heavily-treated voices in the background repeat, “Call for pizza. Call for pizza.”

In a lesser songwriter’s hands, this could come across as preachy. Yet Davis isn’t merely yelling, “Wake up, sheeple!” He’s putting forward the facts as he sees them. In “Stock Up All the Prisons,” which bears all the rhythmic pulse and infectious melody of an orchestrated Liars tune, Davis goes step-by-step into the way the American prison-industrial complex functions. “It’s good to be in an office  / Let’s take a look and see / How me and my friends / Can loot the treasury,” he sings, then connects America’s for-profit health care with its for-profit prison industry. “Stock up all the prisons / Lock hospital doors.”

– Corbie Hill, Editorial: Album of The Day, Bandcamp, 11/27/17

“On his new release as John Davis & The Cicadas, El Pulpo (Shrimper/Revolver), [Davis has] composed several songs that are both memorable and challenging. The opening 5 minute plus pop opus “Sugar Daddy Candy Corn” is built around a repetitive melodic bassline that’s entrancing, light and airy while Davis’ unique cadence is accentuated by those beautiful childlike background female vocals. It’s easy to get sucked into the band’s intriguing sound. They continue utilizing the same techniques on “We’ll Teach Them How To Privatize,” as Davis speaks/sings throughout it while those guitar notes and backing vocals create a hypnotic chant. There’s something very special about the way he creates songs, as if he’s a pop specialist, combining notes as only he can. “HFCS” is strangely addictive with its underlying keys and “King Piggly Wiggly” is more fervent in its delivery with the rhythm section leading the way, but it’s “Coca-Cola” where the Davis and the band sing a tongue-in-cheeky flavorful ode to the bottling company. He even throws in the lyrics to its old-themed commercial but delivering it much differently. It’s equally both bizarre and humorous and the wall of background voices that pops in accentuates the track. You get the sense of the theme running through the album with the song titles, and with “Stock Up All The Prisons” you get the sense he’s writing about what’s wrong with American society. But the song itself? It’s what the kids today would refer to as a ‘banger’ because the rhythm is bound to embed itself in anyone who listens to it. John Davis isn’t averse to changing things up drastically though. On “Who Milks The Cow?” he pieces together instruments, not much different than how Tom Waits sometimes does, and talks through this number hauntingly. With “Soja e o Rei” there’s a similarity there but it’s much darker and horns wickedly enter the fray.  And then the title track seems to blow everything out of the water. It’s much more melodic on this 10-and-a-half-minute opus. It’s amazing how they can push that melody for so long without becoming repetitious. El Pulpo is pretty jolting, an album that has John Davis & The Cicadas pushing the proverbial envelope from beginning to end. Other musicians really do need to take note.” — Eddie Ugarte, Ghettoblaster Magazine, October 20 2017

“”El Pulpo” is an electrifying record, the type that lingers in your mind before it’s had a chance to sink in. It’s a multi-layered socio-political commentary on the pressing issues that matter, one that aims to make people listen.” — Vanessa Bermudez,, October 10 2017

“Like a busy crowd or a ruthless machine El Pulpo holds an infinity of sounds, movements and other swarming informations orchestrated with a bliss straight from a dehumanized commercial. But it’s beautiful. And fascinating….T’auras raté ton année si tu n’écoutes pas ce disque” – Pierre Chandeze, With A Messy Head, October 17th 2017. (Paris)

“On his forthcoming new album titled El Pulpo, Davis—currently a public school teacher and activist based in Durham, N.C.—shows he hasn’t lost his thirst for quirky and off-kilter static-pop but the subject matter is no joke. While the infectious melodies are peppered with dense and jarring sci-fi electronics-tweaked textures and layers and manipulated vocals, Davis sings of hot-button topics like corporate corruption in the food industry, immigration, the overflowing prison system and Wall Street greed.” — Brad Cohan, New York Observer, April 2017

“When it comes to music careers and their trajectories, a few general narratives prevail: 1. Toil in obscurity, get a big break and then attain fame, fortune and all the attendant blessings and curses that go along with those things. 2. Toil in obscurity, get a big break and then fade back into obscurity without ever becoming the next big thing. 3. Toil in obscurity.

Needless to say, the vast majority of musicians aim for the first scenario, but nearly all of them are forced to settle for the last one. Then there are the outliers, the ones we never hear about, the musicians who toil in obscurity, get a break—and then walk away, from their bands, their opportunities and sometimes even from music itself.

I’m not sure why these musical mavericks don’t loom larger in lore, but it might have something to do with our need to believe all serious musicians are born with insatiable ambition and musical myopia to match… Truth is, these conscientious objectors are probably greater in number than we realize, and such dissent more common than we know…

John Davis is one such musical expat.  Recently he’s melded his music with the social conscience and political beliefs that have come from time spent in his classroom and the greater Durham, N.C. community.  This amalgam of his disparate vocations makes for music that is sharp, smart and unsparingly literate.  In a world of musical narratives that are stubbornly resistant to change or revision, Davis is writing his own story—and this outlier continues to make it up as he goes along.” – Carey Ross, Cascadia Weekly, April 2018

“An unlikely success…It’s almost a new genre, just crazy enough to work, like the soundtrack to a Broadway show sponsored by the popular leftist radio program Democracy Now: Davis’ reluctant tenor over the kind of 1980s-era synthesizer music that felt ultra-modern in that time, but now feels charmingly dated. Think Scary Monsters-era Bowie, Kate Bush or David Sylvian of Japan….would fit nicely on an early Talking Heads record.” — William Kennedy, Eugene Weekly March 2018.

“Spare Parts, his first solo record in 16 years, (is) as carefully constructed as Davis’s early stuff was dashed off, so while arrangements are sparse, the space between notes registers as grandly as orchestration on a classic countrypolitan production. Davis stashes a few surprises in those spaces that stop the action like a play within a play—“Blood Feud,” for instance, features a drum solo that sounds like Milford Graves meeting Ikue Mori. He’s always had the gift of freezing a moment, but now he’s placing those snapshots inside narratives as sweeping as the songs’ arrangements.” — Bill Meyer, Chicago Reader, March 2016 

“Late night music for soulful pondering…that sounds like it could’ve been made today, or 16 years ago, or (minus a few digital squiggles here and there) 40 years ago.”  — Garrett Martin review of Spare Parts, Paste Magazine, October 2013

Blue Mountains adds more of a full-band feel to Davis‘ usual singer/songwriter vein, backing his acoustic jangle with light percussion and arrangements of twangy slide guitar. This light shuffle makes for a release that is, on the whole, slightly more “normal” than some of Davis‘ other work; his songwriting, on the other hand, retains its idiosyncrasies in any setting, and the slanted constructions on Blue Mountains are consistently interesting, adding a lighter, more transparent feel to the excellent sound of Leave Home.” — Nitsuh Abeba, All Music

Leave Home has more to do with the side of John Davis that worked with the Palace Brothers than the side that constitutes half of Folk Implosion — the album’s songs have the simple acoustic quality (and occasional patched-together percussion) of a Mountain Goats‘ release, but the songwriting lands in a more poetic and subtle vein. The result is an intimate and well-executed tour through the work of a very idiosyncratic songwriter. Somewhere within the stripped-down set-up of Davis‘ songs are shades of Sebadoh and even Neutral Milk Hotel, making for an album that overshoots the earnest simplicity that’s expected of most singer/songwriters.” — (4/5 stars), Nitsuh Abebe, All Music

“The surprise success of “Natural One” affected the Folk Implosion in a surprising way. Instead of running from success and shunning melody, Lou Barlow and John Davis decided to embrace pop on their own terms. That means the Folk Implosion remains an indie rock band, recording on cheap equipment, and layering brittle guitars for the basic tracks, but the guys write impossibly catchy hooks, such as the amazing single “Pole Position.” At its best, Dare to Be Surprised is spare, tuneful, and infectious, and at its worst, it’s merely underwritten. Nevertheless, Barlow has rarely been as succinct and consistent as he is here, and Davis‘ songs are uniformly strong as well, making Dare to Be Surprised one of the finest items in their respective catalogs.” — Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music review of Dare To Be Surprised.

“{Folk Implosion}’s complex opuses range from undeniably poppy to downright non-musical, but are always fresh, unlike the stale and moldy cottage cheese being kicked out by mainstream alternative bands. The opening track, “Pole Position”, is a perfect example. It opens in such a way that you’re almost totally lost in a tangled-up guitar mess that makes no sense before it blasts you into oblivion with chords as catchy as a goddamn baseball glove, while other songs manage to conjure up images of indie rock versions of Peter Gabriel and INXS. Weird enough? No, it actually works. After 1994’s radio beef, “Natural One”, I was expecting to get backhanded with pop pleasures. Instead, I got knocked on my ass, and just found out what hit me: El Implosion De Folk.”

Ryan Schreiber, Pitchfork Media, May 01, 1997



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