Daniel Davies’ ‘Signals’ Is a Masterpiece — Review

You’ve heard Daniel Davies’ music a fair amount, though perhaps you haven’t realized it. For the past several years he’s been a member of his godfather John Carpenter’s band along with Carpenter’s son Cody. This trio has brought you two Lost Themes releases, along with an anthology of classic Carpenter movie themes and the score to Halloween 2018.

But maybe you are aware of Davies’ profound talent as a multi-instrumentalist and solo artist. Perhaps you’ve experienced his extraordinary 2018 sci-fi themed record Events Score (which he discusses in this interview) or his beautifully evocative score to Soeurs de Glisse, released on vinyl last year. Before all of the aforementioned, Davies racked up a rich history of guitar and synth contributions to rock bands and other releases.

Signals’ is one of the first true masterpieces of the 2020s.

With that foundation Davies’ has crafted Signals, his debut solo release on Sacred Bones Records, as one of the first true masterpieces of the 2020s. Davies’ talent at guitar and synths hits a career high in terms of artistry and technique, but that’s not enough to truly shine. He pairs that with a deft compositional technique imbued with a deep and profound sense of humanity you won’t always find in synth-heavy electronic music nowadays. Along the way he never loses that cinematic sense he has kept close to his heart, whether actually scoring a film or not.

For Signals, Davies drew from a particular source of inspiration: a collaboration with visual artist Jesse Draxler, whose memorable mixed media works are on the album’s cover and insert, according to Sacred Bones. Essentially, Davies scored the artwork.

daniel davies signals review

“One of the main concepts for this album was working with the feeling of uncertainty,” Davies has said in press materials. “Jesse’s art illustrates that perfectly with his disruptive shapes. At first, they are foreign to the landscapes they live in, but over time we become used to them, we adjust. The foreign objects force us to evolve, to accept and live with the uncertainty they create. Musically, I wanted to capture that same contrast… What were once conflicting emotions became harmonious.”

The resulting work is a powerful eight-song set that I’d love to one day see paired with Draxler’s art in a multimedia exhibit at MoMA.

Opener “Last Days” establishes a slow-burning, ruminative theme to the record. It’s buoyed by nuanced and expressive clean guitars and warm arps and other synth colors mashed adjacent treated/edited percussive parts. “One Hundred Years” is a demonstrably cinematic track, cultivating a deep sense of urgency and pathos from a few intersecting synth parts. “Origins” has prog leanings featuring triumphant, multi-tracked guitars and quirky synth parts, baked in the rich tapestry of massively theatrical rhythmic expressions. This could be the cue from the rebirth of a 1980s action-film franchise.

A haunting, deconstructed string part rips itself into dread on “Destructive Field,” a John Carpenter collaboration that is an expertly assembled cross between the castle levels in Super Mario World and the high-stakes existential threats of a Blumhouse picture. The blend of synths, pianos, strings, and sound design is both ferociously small and markedly Kubrickian in their galactic reach. I’d be supremely disappointed if some hip-hop producer didn’t sample this delectable helping of supreme foreboding.

“Beyond Megalith Illumination” is straight out of some blend of Michael Rother and the Annihilation score by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury. An intricate, Western-tinged acoustic guitar part plays over a sweetly foreboding ambient soundscape and propulsive percussion manipulations that instill an inherently temporary sense of calm and resolve.

A sweeping composition called “Possessor” is driven by an almost militaristic rhythm section, a bubbling synth underbelly, and a cascade of hopeful synth arps piled atop. It’s an incredible dichotomy that forms over the slow build of the five-minute number. You start the cut thinking the worst and conclude it with only the best of thoughts — what starts as a horror film score cue ends as an uplifting M83-esque musical passage.

The two closing cuts, “Phantom Waltz” and “Visible,” easily secure Davies’ legacy as a master of cultivating emotion and connection through music. The former recalls the tone, mood, and scope of New Order’s “Elegia” from 1985’s Low-Life. The blend of mournful minor chords, wistful synth melodies, and foreboding guitars are joined by an evocative vocal synthesizer to create a richly layered composition imbued with a deep sense of engagement and persistence. “Visible” has a dungeon-like dirge of suppressed dissonance to it — a terrifyingly subdued conclusion to this exquisite record. By the time you hit this track, you’re a Davies admirer if you weren’t one already.

It’s available now on vinyl and digital via Sacred Bones Records. Get the record here and stream it all over the place.