The Sadies continue to find themselves in a precarious position. Few can hold a candle to the Toronto four-piece when it comes to their raw musicianship and boisterous live sets. Yet throughout their previous six studio records, their sound has varied rather little. Psych-infused countrified freak-outs is what you’ll get time and time again. And from the first swirling moments of the opener, “Another Year Again”, you’d assume that they’re treating us to standard fare on Darker Circles, their latest full-length.
But a minute and a half into this jangly cut, The Sadies begin to show a different side of themselves as a band. Dark and uninhibited, they’re still the rock and roll pirates on the surface. But there’s a depth on Darker Circles. And it’s one that has not gone unnoticed.
Recently shortlisted for the Polaris Prize, Canada’s equivalent of the Mercury Prize, Darker Circles sees The Sadies, ironically enough, getting the kind of pseudo-mainstream attention that has always eluded them. It only took some pretty heavy stuff for them to get there. While sonically appealing, Darker Circles sees the lyrical tones setting the pace and blending immensely well with the dual guitar work of the Good brothers. The shuffling, loose feel of “Tell Her What I Said” augments the personal struggle lead singer Travis Good seems to endure throughout the 11 tracks on Darker Circles.
Themes of isolation and abandonment creep up rather often, including on “Cut Corners”, where the band takes some fairly weighty cues from ol’ grandpa Neil Young. While the hooks are not especially sharp, there’s a meandering feel that serves the songs that much better. Ever the showmen, theatrical elements do emerge, such as on the haunting late-night groove of “The Quiet One”.
It’s those theatrical elements that cull and beg for a few more spins. Introspection being the name of the game on Darker Circles, The Sadies have managed to stretch their legs out. No track is confined to their standard two minute “Bat out of hell” aesthetic. “Whispering Circles”, in particular, moves with a delicate strength. It’s as if The Sadies are larger and more reticent all at once.
“Another Day Again” is a rollicking punch to the gut that still manages to lament the grind of touring life. The Sadies sound to not be totally fulfilled with their progression as artists, though it’s hard to feel bad for them when they continue to ply their craft as earnestly as they do on Darker Circles.
Credit is due for taking a chance and giving into the kind of pain and suffering that has long served great art. The Sadies were once described by someone close to me as “Real shit kicking music”. And while that might not have been debatable on previous releases, Darker Circles is ultimately memorable for a different reason: The Sadies are the ones who seem to have gotten the shit kicked out of them, but they stand back up with more poise than ever.