A surprisingly engaging album from the Irish synth-pop trio.
Recently, when electronic music is mentioned, people's minds go to the attempted lifeless party anthems of Steve Aoki and not to the dark seduction of New Order. Whenever I see the electronic tag, I always fear the former and hope for the latter. With their self-titled full-length Dark Room Notes have earned my gratitude for being one of the first to fall in line with the latter. All throughout Dark Room Notes there's a familiar nervous tension that translates into propulsive energy. While a lot of electronic-based music can come across as relatively lifeless, Dark Room Notes expertly navigate around that issue by implementing a sizable amount of the electronic parts of their songs as conventional instrument arrangements. It's a neat trick that pays off surprisingly well.
"Wallop Waves" kicks things off in fairly impressive fashion and once it gets going after a surprisingly good introduction portion, Dark Room Notes never looks back. The song hums along frantically, aided by a theremin, bird sounds, and backing female vocals. It also features an irresistible melody and a punchy breakdown before one last explosive chorus. Quite a start. In addition to being one of Dark Room Notes' best tracks, it sets up single "Baby Don't Hurt Me No More" perfectly. "Baby Don't Hurt Me No More" continues on in that same seductively dark vein, calling to mind bands like New Order and their predecessor, Joy Division. Around this point is when one might realize that Dark Room Notes is, in reality, an expertly crafted pop album with dark and electronic overtones.
Unfortunately, "Baby Don't Hurt Me No More" reveals Dark Room Notes' worst tendency: the majority of their songs are more than a minute too long. They lose some of their impact by extending past logical conclusions and dragging themselves out to reach that extra minute. It's not an uncommon problem and while it certainly isn't too damaging, it's evident enough to be easily noticed.
"An Alignment Part I" is definitely an exception to this rule at its brisk three minute run-time. Sadly, it ends up being one of Dark Room Notes weakest tracks whereas "An Alignment Part II" is one of its strongest, albeit (again) just a little too long. Apart from its length, though, it's an absolutely killer track that features the band pulling out most of their stops, drifting along in a weird near-sexual charge. "An Alignment Part II" also reveals Dark Room Notes as very effective minimalists in both arrangement and lyrics, which are always smartly crafted, even if their second-tier in terms of importance.
Dark Room Notes final run of tracks lose virtually none of the record's momentum and act as testament to the bands consistency. Perhaps most impressive about the entire affair is that the band never comes across as '80s-revivalists despite sharing several of the same signposts of bands like New Order, who have been mentioned more than once for a reason. Instead, the band seems to have a foot firmly in the present and possibly one in the future. This is the kind of music that electronic artists should be looking to for influence, not Paul Van Dyk. Dark Room Notes is a surprisingly good record from a surprisingly good band. I'm just hoping other electronic acts follow their lead.