[23 October 2011]
Canadian art-rockers the Darcys may be a complete enigma in the U.S., where I’d be stunned if I could find five people on the street who are familiar with their music. The hope, however, is that their arrival this fall with an eponymous album could change all that. Their first full length since 2007’s Endless Water, the new album, produced by the Dears’ frontman Murray Lightburn, is an attempt to push genre boundaries through complex arrangements, layered vocals and all manner of looped keyboards and guitars. The result is an album with 10 songs that blend well with each other to form something of a song-suite, with arrangements which hearken back to Radiohead as the vocals seem equally inspired by the pop hooks of Coldplay.
It’s odd that a band so obscure as this is so dead-set on defying classification and description, something which makes it difficult to describe them to listeners who would likely enjoy what the Darcys have to offer. Thankfully the music speaks well for itself. “Don’t Bleed Me” is a particularly strong introduction to the band’s sound, as frantic percussion provides a backdrop to screeching guitar feedback and keyboard fuzz, made more interesting by the addition of Jason Couse’s layered, echoing vocals.
The song merges with “House Built Around Your Voice”, which sounds like a more restrained Kings of Leon track recorded in an alternate universe where the Followills knew of such things as restraint. The hook of the chorus, with cascades of arpeggiated keyboard and guitar, builds to a peak Band of Horses and My Morning Jacket fans would appreciate. This isn’t sing-at-the-top-of-your-lungs music, but the melodies of these songs are perfectly matched to the intended mood, and the resulting mix is an inspiring blend of polished pop and more avant garde experimentation.
What really makes the band stand out is the fact that, while these10 arrangements work well as an album’s whole, each individual track stands well on its own, too. And their experimental attempts to make genre distinctions more vague makes the album one that reveals subtle nuances upon repeated listens. While no album of the year, The Darcys is more than a mere diversion. This is an album acutely suited for headphone listening, most notably because the band is not afraid to experiment with dynamic shifts. “The Mountains Make Way” opens with a building wall of ambient noise, adding distorted keyboards and bass guitar as the arrangement builds. By the time the drums come in, the song’s at full tilt, and at its zenith there is a screaming instrumental wall of feedback, keyboards and drums. At the same time, there’s no sense that the underlying melody is lost in the mix. The result is music a great deal more invigorating than I’d expected at the outset.
The Darcys have arrived after their four year absence to provide audiences with genre-busting art pop, succeeding at being interesting which is easily the first step to success. They have their work cut out for them in today’s crowded musical landscape, but here’s hoping these songs attract notice in the right circles. The Darcys is definitely a move in the right direction for fans of meaningful pop music, and it deserves to be heard.