Kate Davis is a recovering jazz genius whose sweet voice and melodic alt-rock masks are how darkly insane some of her lyrics are: This album begins with the words: “I wanted more than to be left to die in bed at midnight/ A chained ankle getting in my way. ” Despite the alarming subtext, the song’s title “Monster Mash” suggests it’s written from the perspective of a real monster (… one of a kind, but more on that in a moment).
“Fish Bowl” is the Portland, OR-raised singer-songwriter’s second feature film (excluding “Strange Boy”, 2021 Daniel Johnston covers) and is much more confident and realistic than his 2019 debut album, “Trophy.” “Guitar-focused and full of bittersweet melodies, this album is so evocative of ’90s artists like Belly and Liz Phair, as well as more contemporary artists like Sharon Van Etten and Lucy Dacus, and it’s the kind of album that will make you nod and then suddenly nod. “Wait, what?” “I feel like a crumbled pie, a crumpled french fries / Cold at the bottom of the bag” and “I’m going through the motions of a big, empty bitch sabotaging herself.” And then there’s this sequence: “Scooby Doo was a puppy who never got enough mystery/ Same damn thing to me… Jesus was a vagrant who never got enough mercy/ Same damn thing for me.” And “Long Long Long” isn’t a George Harrison cover, but instead contains references to the Barenaked Ladies and Kylie Minogue.
According to the biography, this all makes for a rather complex story: “Crafted with the Greek epics and Joseph Campbell’s ‘A Hero’s Journey’ in mind (who is also aware of the sexism in his theories), Davis traces his hero’s journey. ‘Through the 12 highly personal pieces of Fish Bowl,’ he says, ‘from the moment he walks away from his old life to the moment he finds inner peace. He takes these steps through the eyes of FiBo, the main character of the album, who starts the opening track of ‘Monster Mash’ and realizes that the community he has developed has turned their back on him and starts looking for real change.” Davis adds, “It’s about a very strange kind of heartbreak and betrayal at the mercy of your ‘Other’.”
Of course, all of this would be much less interesting if the music weren’t so appealing. There are hardly any moments on the album that could be considered jazz, but Davis’ training (he plays most of the instruments on the album) comes from layered background vocals as well as sophisticated songwork and arrangements. a certain “June Doom” but definitely sounds like a Davis with multiple dubs.
Melodically memorable and distorted in unique and compelling ways, “Fish Bowl” marks the true arrival of Kate Davis.