Wearing their garage-band title as a kind of attitudinal badge of honor, the Dallas-based Deathray Davies have honed a casual, offhand cool that dovetails nicely with the anti-refinement, retro-rock movement. But Midnight at the Black Nail Polish Factory confirms that the band is most powered by its own momentum. On their fourth full-length, the Davies take the straightforward, hooky sound they harnessed with such charm and simplicity on albums like 2002's The Day of the Ray and 2000's The Return of the Drunken Ventriloquist and bend it and twist it around the edges. Like a piece of soft metal worked over by expert hands, the once-raw stylings have become slyly ornate works of art.
The Davies, mostly made up of singer-songwriter John Dufilho and bassist/multi-instrumentalist Jason Garner along with a rotating array of additional sidemen, continue to craft hook-intensive, distortion-heavy guitar dirges. But on Midnight, the band incorporates surprising touches into its still insouciant songs -- including Oriental-sounding chord progressions, horns and plenty of mysterious intros and outros. There's a general darkening of the once all-sunny sound.
"The Staring Contest" is a short, moody instrumental that sounds like a musical Japanese ghost story - an indication that Dufilho and company are in an experimental mood. The song segues into "Gone Against the Tide" with odd, dissonant chord patterns, fuzzy guitars, a subtle sprinkling of horns and layers of warbling guitar leads. On "The Girl Who Stole the Eiffel Tower" Dufilho sounds like a more cheerful Jim Reid of the Jesus and Mary Chain, with a deeply echoing vocal track that sounds as if it were being sung from inside a refrigerator. And the guitars, it appears, remain on perpetual freak-out mode from top to bottom.
Aside from a short middle stretch in which two or three songs sound a little too much like each other (and like outtakes from The Day of the Ray), Midnight is a fine record that suggests the Deathray Davies have graduated from the garage to, say, the basement of Dufilho's parents' house.