The Lees of Memory - 'Sisyphus Says'

The 'Sucked Out' band born anew hits all the right notes

The Lees of Memory

The legend of Sisyphus tells of a fallen king doomed to unsuccessfully push a rock up a hill for all eternity. What was the Sisyphean task of John Davis, front man for the underrated power-pop group Superdrag? Was it the burden of being pegged as the next Rivers Cuomo? Was it living up to record-company pressure to repeat the appeal of the bratty “Sucked Out” off 1996’s breakout Regretfully Yours?

Was it his struggle with alcoholism and the quest to find the Answer in religion?

The question is less important than the answer: reinvention. After Superdrag broke up in 2003, Davis found solace in sobriety and Christianity, as well as a solo career. John Davis (2005, Rambler) and Arigato! (2007, Bug Music) touched upon the themes of salvation and mercy, two treasures rarely obtained in the rough-and-tumble music industry. He was saved, ultimately from himself and his former band. (With pit stops in the groups My Red Hot Nightmare and Epic Ditch.) Superdrag gave it another go in 2007, but it felt old hat to Davis. Rebirth was essential.

More than a memory

The Lees of Memory is the rechristening of Superdrag in the watery currents of shoegaze. Along with Epic Ditch drummer Nick Slack and fellow Drag Brandon Fisher, Davis plumbs the depths of My Bloody Valentine and Jesus and Mary Chain influence.

Gone are the feel-good anthems of yore; here to stay is a meatier, headier trio that knows its way around a delay pedal.

We’re introduced to the Lees of Memory via “We Are Siamese,” a swooning lava-lamp of a composition. The title may as well describe the creative relationship between Davis and Fisher, friends for more than 25 years and sonic partners in crime.

Their double helix of Fenders coils so smoothly, it’s a miracle they aren’t attached at the cranium. Great minds think alike, but Davis and Fisher function as twin entities from the same nucleus.

“Deliquesce” appropriately sounds like the liquidation process for which it is named. The layers of fuzz guitars and splash cymbals blanket one another, creating a warm resonance. It’s as though Yuck and Smashing Pumpkins gathered together on a carousel. “Don’t Part Ways” similarly hums, with reserved, haunted vox and a sole acoustic floating on a pink cloud. Davis’ vocals here and throughout the 11 gossamer numbers are much more soothing than his ’90s caterwauls. He’s softened with age— and for the better.

Waves in the sea

Not all of Sisyphus Says is strictly shoegaze. “One Wave in the Sea” is a gigantic rock track, with ferocious pounding from Slack and thunderous noodling from Davis and Fisher. It’s a testosterone jolt in a generally androgynous flow, one that hearkens back to Matthew Sweet or old Goo Goo Dolls. And “Not a Second More” is straight out of the Dave Grohl fake book, recalling the consoling pomp of “Walk.” Davis goes from a comforting croon to a triumphant shout in the chorus in which he aims to seize the day.

I’ll never blow this chance again,” he sings. Sisyphus Says is Davis’ chance to explore a different side of his genius without the burden of Superdrag weighing him down. It’s his and Fisher’s coming out of the stupor of the money-drenched, fat cat-orchestrated 1990s and embracing their truth.

A new territory

Their new art as the Lees of Memory is a priceless currency. They’re free to explore as they please, and this new territory is a breathtaking landscape. Many have traversed the environment before, but this band has a spiritual kinship with it. The transition feels so natural and inspired. The transformation is not a Sisyphean one; John Davis has conquered his rock.

Label: SideOneDummy
Release Date: Sept. 16, 2014 (U.S.)