NUVO Rates it 5 out of 5
Well, here’s a nice surprise, and one of the best albums I’ve heard by an Indiana artist this year. Little Death is the second solo release by Bloomington’s David England, who we’ve heard before in The England Brothers (a band he formed with his brother Jon which was most active in the late ‘90s), the Benders and, most recently, in Old Flames, a sort of Gentleman Caller offshoot. But his solo work has never quite taken off, and what was said in a favorable No Depression review of his first album, 2003’sAlmost True, still holds up: “His music deserves to be heard beyond the Monroe County line.”
England’s work is of a part with the roots-pop scene that dominated Bloomington music in the ‘90s, led by the major label flirting Mysteries of Life and the long-lived Vulgar Boatmen, characterized by a clean, often-acoustic driven sound that was middle-of-the-road without being MOR, with lyrics foregrounded and roots-rock elements incorporated with, usually, very little twang. As for other touchstones, England sounds quite a bit like Elvis Costello — his froggy, thick voice would sound imitative if not for the lack of an English accent — and his songwriting is in the school of clever wordplay and catchy choruses that brings to mind guys like Costello, Marshall Crenshaw and Freedy Johnston.
Which is to say that you’ve probably heard something like Little Death before, but not often enough: tunes like “Catch Your Breath” and “Not Today” are memorable, almost-perfect pop songs with catchy choruses, well-placed background vocals (courtesy of Paul Mahern, who produced the record) and a slightly weary, knowing voice that offers wryness and honesty in just the right amounts. “Catch Your Breath,” is really the standout, the third track that propels the album, and which follows through on the album title’s promise of some eroticism: “I’ll let you catch your breath after your little death…show me how to hurt you now.” The aforementioned Mysteries of Life show up on one track — the unassuming “You Know Me” — but this seems to be England’s affair, and he chooses not to dress up his songs with any accoutrements, leaving it to drummer Devon Ashley and bassist Matt Brookshire to provide solid but unspectacular backing.
David England-Little Death. We namechecked Elvis Costello as an influence in the review above, but he definitely comes more to mind here in the sound of this Indiana native’s second album. England has a voice and a sound that could be described as the golden mean of Costello, Dave Edmunds and Graham Parker. Fans of those artists will love the Rockpile-like opener “You Don’t Have To” as well as “Don’t Go Back”, which has a bit of a country touch a la Brinsley Schwarz. After those two fine opening tracks, the hits just keep on coming: “Catch Your Breath” sounds like King of America-era Costello, “Out of the Blue” sports a breezy pop melody, and “Not Today” introduces some jangle to the mix. It’s a must-have for fans of this classic style of power pop.
Purchase Little Death on iTunes.