In what is surely one of the more frustrating listens of the year, Des Ark’s Loose Lips Sink Ships is both a promising debut and a painful example of a band’s aesthetic overwhelming it’s art. This Durham, N.C. duo, comprised of guitarist/vocalist Aimee Argote and drummer Tim Herzog, attempt to kick up a righteous hailstorm of malevolence on their first full-length, but are belied mostly by their own rockist instincts, because the two softer tracks that bookend this record — the two that eschew the group’s penchant for anachronistic indie rock and which actually showcase distinguishable melodies — are vastly superior to what is presented in between them. In this case, the bread tastes much better than the sandwich.
Too bad. Argote has a beautiful, beautiful voice, as evidenced by the Frenté-like opener “Some Are Love” and the brief but hypnotic closer “For Bob Riecke”, but sadly, she opts for indistinguishable shouting throughout the majority of this record’s eight tracks; all too often shrouded in a wash of muddy monochromatic guitar crunch, dated production values, and this group’s marriage, at least sonically, to early P.J. Harvey.
On the upside, “No More Fighting Cats, OK?” is a fantastic little creature, featuring some nifty verses, a good groove, and a perfectly placed guitar break. It also segues quite nicely into “Queen of the Sketch Patrol,” giving the record a momentum that is quickly vanquished by a handful of songs that recall forgettable Sonic Youth noodling, or more specifically, the bad ones with Kim singing. (As conciliation, Kim Gordon, your version of the Dolls’ “Personality Crisis” is still one of my favorite songs of all time!). Soon, every song begins to sound a little bit more monotonous than the one that proceeded it, making for what seems like a lengthy listening experience, even though Loose Lips Sink Ships comes across the finish line at just under a half-hour.
“Jesus Loves You (But Yr Still Coming Home With Me Tonight)” comes on late all sexy and intense with its circular riff (and yes, sounding like the White Stripes) before descending into another academic guitar/vocal workout. By the time we get to “Send Jolley to Raleigh,” Argote’s shrill and the lack of sonic variety begins to really grate on the listener.
Loose Lips Sink Ships is said to have been “recorded” by Dinosaur Jr.‘s J. Mascis, but other than the first and last tracks, and parts of “No More Fighting Cats, OK?” and “Jesus Loves You,” this record really doesn’t sound that produced at all. Maybe this is the point, but the bigger point is that the songs don’t sound good. It’s as if he sat back and watched the band incorporate too much of his own You’re Living All Over Me sound when this group really needed a little more Where You Been to stretch its sonic palette and trust its pop instincts. Maybe J. was too busy remastering his old Dinosaur records at the time, because those sound a lot better, and Loose Lips Sink Ships is yet another indie record that could have benefited from a little bit more spit and shine.
This is far from a bad record, but it is also far from a great one. And it’s frustrating because you get a sense that it could’ve been much better. When fellow North Carolinians Superchunk came out with their debut full-length 15 years ago, some said that the band were best listened to in “chunks.” The same can be said now for Des Ark, who would do best to follow the Chunk game plan and trust those poppier instincts.