Daniel Spils and Brangien Davis are The Argument.
Shortly after purchasing their 1939 Paul Thiry home in Seattle, Daniel Spils and Brangien Davis (a.k.a. The Argument) began converting the basement into a sound studio. There they recorded their self-titled 11-song debut CD. In this marriage of talents, Daniel Spils is the seasoned musician who moved from Anchorage, Alaska, to Seattle and played for 10 years in the band Maktub with Reggie Watts. Brangien Davis spent her early years in central Pennsylvania (where I met her at age 9 as the daughter of a close friend). Brangien contributes reflective lyrics, resonant vocals, and fleeting flute interjections to this collaboration.
The Argument CD is a studio project that reveals Daniel’s mastery of instrumental layering and subtle electronic effects. He plays an upright 1939 Steinway piano, synthesizers, electric and bass guitars, and a variety of horns, including trombone, trumpet, and euphonium. Davis Martin, formerly of the band Maktub, sits in to contribute percussion.
Brangien comes from a solid background as a writer and essayist, and former longtime arts and culture editor for Seattle magazine. Several years ago, Daniel tricked her into providing backing vocals on an instrumental track. Now they harmonize splendidly on subjects as diverse as old photographs, a cousin’s sudden death, and the dwindling Ogallala Aquifer.
The Argument proves that good songwriting and musical arrangements do not require a contract with a recognized record label. On the duo’s website (theargument.us) you will find lyrics and essays about each track.
Here’s a list of my favorites.
• “Ogallala” was inspired by a Ken Burns documentary on the Dust Bowl. An extensive subterranean aquifer underneath eight central states, the Ogallala irrigates about 27 percent of all U.S. agricultural lands. It’s shrinking at a dangerous pace, and scientists estimate it will take 6,000 years to restore. The song epitomizes the synergistic collaboration found throughout the album: thought-provoking stories, deliciously layered instrumentation and percussion, and nuanced harmonies that bend and shape each song delightfully.
• “Emphasis” begins with pounding piano chords and percussion. Brangien tells the true story of learning about her cousin’s death while waiting at her vet’s office with her 18-year-old cat. Unexpectedly, her mother calls to tell her about the passing of her 40-year-old alcoholic cousin, Brendan, who had indicated that he couldn’t “live like this.” Brangien thought Brendan meant that he would turn his life around. Upon reflection, she realizes he may have meant that he didn’t think he would be alive much longer. The difference in interpretation “is all in the emphasis” of meaning. Vocal harmonies are especially resonant and the lyrics imply that we should carefully weigh the words of our loved ones and not miss cries for help.
• “Time-Lapse Photography” was initially a compositional experiment by Daniel, but it transformed into something else after he unpacked a box of old photographs. He and Brangien marveled at the “march of time” and how memories captivate us through photographs. The song begins with Brangien’s flute and Davis Martin’s percussion reminiscent of “Strawberry Fields Forever.” “Time-lapse photography is happening to me,” Daniel reflects, and behind it all is the spoken-word progression of age in five-year increments. “On my father’s shoulders / now it’s me that’s older / wrinkles in time / once I was a grandchild / once I had that hairstyle / wave goodbye…”
The Argument is a wonderful CD by an insightful musical and lyrical duo. Listen to it and relish the lifted spirit that comes your way.