Owen Davies finds calmness and weirdness in isolation on Slushy Farms.
Ever since my grandparents sold their cottages and built a house on that land about fifteen years ago, I’ve always been envious of people who have a temporary place to flee from the noise of the city. Cottages (or cabins, for those out west) are necessarily out in the wilderness and generally far from urban centres. They’re places for relaxation, of course, but also for freeing up your mind to process things you might otherwise ignore or suppress. There’s a reason one of the most explosive fights on the TV show Girlshappens in a beach house.
Owen Davies already seems like he’s thinking about life in five dimensions, so it almost makes sense that Slushy Farms — an EP conceived in his parents’ farmhouse in tiny, remote Sea View, Prince Edward Island — sounds a little more straightforward than the ever-shifting Lollipop Pumpkinhead. Add this to the list of albums recorded in isolation before “recorded in isolation” became the norm of 2020, and it’s another album to draw inspiration from the quiet. Slushy Farms is a return to Davies’ folk-with-hints-of-weirdness sound, and he recruited a stellar cast of musicians to back him: some smooth pedal steel from Michael Feuerstack, gorgeous saxophone from David Switchenko (Saxsyndrum), tender accordion from Michael C. Duguay, and mellifluous percussion from Jeff D. Elliott.
This is not to suggest, of course, that a more straightforward Owen Davies record is ordinary. His lyrics are opaque as ever, offering tantalizing glimpses of personal material surrounded by layers of metaphor and imagery. In the shimmery “Holy Fire”, Davies says “I’m a pillar of sand, and the wind might pick up again.” On “Like a Stranger”, Davies sings of “the day you took my head”, and the lack of context makes the missing head an intriguing point of repetition throughout the song. “Elephant Tusk” and “Nothing to Destroy” show Davies stretching the definition of folk in polar opposite ways. “Elephant Tusk,” aided by Feuerstack’s pedal steel, is a warm, countrified road trip song; “There is Nothing to Destroy” quickly abandons its quiet folk form with Switchenko’s wailing saxophone, perhaps signalling the intrusive thoughts you begin to experience in isolation. The song even calls out Sea View by name.
“There was definitely an effort to reflect rural, snow covered, PEI in the music,” Davies wrote to us, and while there’s certainly not a standard idea of that specific place, Slushy Farms feels like a musical representation of the clarity and utter weirdness of removing yourself from the world for however brief a time.