Jason Darling started out with working in a studio, but it’s not what you might think. It was basically making sure that the floors of Electric Lady Studios in New York were spotless. But over the years, he has worked with newcomers such as Leona Naess and has had songs covered by John Doe. Although the genre of singer-songwriters is growing by leaps and bounds each and every week, there is still something to be said for a musician who can apply his craft well. And generally Darling does that, but in spurts. Recalling a blend of Paul Simon, Jason Mraz, and Beck, “Ways in Which We Burn” is a rambling train-riding song that features Darling’s rapid acoustic strumming at its core. It also brings John Mayer’s “3x5” to mind with its backbeat and style but it does trail off slightly near the conclusion.
Backed by musicians who have played with Macy Gray and Alanis Morrisette, Darling has a fine organic feeling on most of the songs, despite the quirky tempo used in “Night Like My Head”, although his urban rap after the first minute should be removed. Talking about people that are in a worse spot than he is, the number glides along without much urgency. Unfortunately the Live-like “Angels Down” opening is an experiment made in hell or at least purgatory. With ambient and hip-hop beats setting some urban mood, Darling is out of his league on this track, and it goes down the sonic toilet quickly. More industrial-ish blips and guitar riffs are added with minimal effort and effect.
Darling sounds as if he’s still trying to find himself by the fourth track, another hip-hop flavored tune with a folk rap moving along. “Lost Desert Motel” is the title of this track, and it might have been a good idea to leave it there. Or perhaps buried in a nearby dune! Beck could pull this track off in his sleep because he’s easily capable of doing it. Darling has to work a lot to get something from it and it shows. Even the Barenaked Ladies could do a better job. Not worth a repeated listen. What is however is the softer, romantic Latin-tinged “Dinner Song”, with just a trace of Neil Young and Tom Petty in each lyric. “It was bottle number two / When the jokes turned around to you”, Darling sings before a buzz-heavy guitar is added deep in the mix. A soulful, finger snapping slow-dance comes from “Wasting Time”, possibly the best song on the record by far. By letting the song drift along, he is able to do a lot more with generally a lot less than other tunes offered.
Darling seems to shed the urban feel on the last couple of songs beginning with a strong “Jet Lag”. Talking about getting back into the Big Apple after a flight from Amsterdam, the sweet and fragile voice is what makes the mid-tempo adult contemporary tune soar. He also works with his own delayed harmony, giving it a spacey Americana feeling. A ‘70s sound oozes from “Living Hell”, with some simple keyboards and a slightly funky bass line weaving in and out of the tune. Some cheesier keyboards come to the fore later on, but by then most have stopped listening or are waiting for the next one. “Run” tends to mix the urban with the pop side of Darling, with female harmonies added along this musical genre-hopping trip. Psychedelic as it moves along à la Lenny Kravitz, the song seems to complement what Darling tried earlier on.
Wrapping things up is a guitar riff rocker “Computers Make the Music”, which is a synth-textured ‘80s sounding pop track. The theme of the song might do well on Petty’s The Last DJ album which justifiably bashed the state of mainstream radio. Overall this record has its moments of great tunes, but there are a couple of clunkers that should be weeded out for next time.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. We need your help to keep PopMatters strong and growing. Thank you.
// Notes from the Road
"Saul Williams played a free, powerful Summerstage show ahead of his appearance at Afropunk this weekend.READ the article