The gorgeous, cloudlike guitars that billow throughout the delf-titled debut from New Jersey duo Donovan Blanc effortlessly recall the similarly-mesmeric music of mid ’80s British groups like Felt and the Wake. So it’s a bit surprising when the group’s two members, Joseph Black and Raymond Schwab, begin to talk about their earliest inspirations.
“Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis really opened up a lot for me,” explains Schwab. “I was about 15 or 16 when I heard it. What really stood out to me were the harmonies, and the way he messed around with time signatures — playing around with the more technical aspects of music. The songs are almost directionless. It’s not like earlier records where the structure is very straightforward — they follow a long thread that almost seems shapeless, but you’re still engaged the whole time.” Black’s touchstones are similarly left-field, citing a cassette of American folk music his grandmother gave him when he was a boy. “What I liked about it was that it was very straightforward, they were simple but very timeless songs that you can pretty easily relate to. There’s no expiration date on that stuff.”
In a way, Donovan Blanc is the place where those two impulses intersect. The songs on the group’s debut are free-roaming, vocals winding like lazy rivers through loose brambles of guitar; but they’re also undeniably melodic, moody and evocative. The band was formed from the ashes of Honeydrum, the first group Schwab and Black played in together. As that group began to wind down, they pair invented the character of Donovan Blanc (pronounced, “Blah-nk”), a would-be ladies’ man who spends his Friday nights, “trying to find somebody to photograph in the nude at his apartment. And he probably comes up empty.”
You can hear some of that hapless Casanova in “Minha Menina,” with its gently spiraling guitars and soft-focus Valentine lyrics. That it shares a name with a song by Os Mutantes is not entirely coincidental. “When I wrote the tune, I was listening to a lot of Jorge Ben,” Black explains. “I love the Portguese language, and I relished the idea of naming a song ‘Minha Menina.’ So, it’s not an homage, but it’s not not an homage, either.” The song exudes a casual beauty, structurally loose, but grounded in a steady, assured melody.
Donovan Blanc will be released by Captured Tracks on June 24.
Download “Minha Menina” here.