Owen Davies is as inscrutable as ever while growing even bolder on Lollipop Pumpkinhead.
Ever since Owen Davies released his album Mystic, I can’t think of any better adjective than “mystic” to describe his music. He’s previously referred to his sound as “new folk,” which doesn’t begin to do justice to the way he confidently pulls from myriad genres to create songs as mysterious as zen koans yet comforting as a warm bath. With Lollipop Pumpkinhead, Davies sonically shapeshifts more than ever without betraying his identity.
Where his last few records leaned more towards folk with a hint of electronic weirdness, here Davies goes from moody, deeply thoughtful piano tracks to synth-infused meditations to a gorgeous string-backed trip through memory lane with ease. The subject matter isn’t always clear-cut, but each song leaves a deep impression. You can feel the suffocation in opener “Death in Acapulco” despite the incongruous combination of the lyrics “Last night I had a dream/That all of the world was on top of me” and its accompanying flute trills. The gloomy acoustic guitar picking to begin “Lay It on Me Heavy” is the perfect backdrop for reflective lyrics about a summer spent in an idyllic place before it unexpectedly and thrillingly gives way to a killer bass line and the swell of trumpets.
Davies processes a lot of complicated feelings throughout Lollipop Pumpkinhead. “Prize Bull” is a serene song with a haunting hook that seems to be about dealing with someone’s drug addiction. “It’s customary, tell the truth/And I don’t want you talking around the issue/I’m sorry, cut the fuse/And you’ve been using” is heard throughout the song like a deeply sad mantra. “Flowers in the Lobby” is a slower, keys-backed song about heartbreak, with Davies admitting early on, “It’s a real shame that I don’t love you enough.” The most unexpected song of the bunch is the gorgeous, aforementioned string-backed song, “Will of the Father,”. Davies sings of a garden that clearly means a lot to him and a loved one, detailing the changes it has gone over the years. It’s a song that sounds like a passionate letter, and there’s something powerful in just four words he repeats: “Hope springs/Don’t bend.”
There’s some limited joy to be had too. The funky “Magic” has Davies describing great chemistry between him and a lover, although there are signs that compatibility won’t last forever either, as the hook changes from “Loving you is like loving me” to “Hurting you is like hurting me.” Closer “Jenny and the Funny Police” seems like a hazy corrupted spiritual, with a sweet combination of piano, guitar and drums that pays tribute to the titular Jenny, a clearly beloved but complicated figure.
Whether or not Davies intended a thematic through-line for the album, Lollipop Pumpkinhead is a cohesive album of many disparate sounds. Davies’ growing confidence in his arrangements makes this album his most fascinating yet.