PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Darwin Deez: Double Down

Photo: Krista Schlueter

For his third release, a pretender to Prince's throne trips over his own nastiness.

Darwin Deez

Double Down

Label: Lucky Number
Release Date: 2015-09-18

Darwin Deez (née Darwin Smith) is indie rock's tinkerer. He obsesses over minute formal variation, typically the realm of the mercenary, the avant-gardist, and the hobbyist, and while his winking, performative play with rock tropes occasionally slouches into cynicism, Darwin swings between the latter two. Every chord a jazz chord on his self-titled 2009 debut, he palm-muted them all over tinny, ditty-bop Casio percussion. It worked for ten rhythmically jilting songs—post-punk for post-ironists. Initially homogenous, I found favorites, such as "DNA" and "Radar Detector", which sounds exactly like "DNA" pep-stepping. For 2013's follow-up Songs for Imaginative People, he expanded his structures, beefed up his guitar in every way (most noticeably in a distortion pedal and technically proficient if melodically inattentive solos) opened up his engineering, and even added a solid approximation of a real live drummer, where Darwin Deez contented itself with pulse and clap.

Between these two albums, Darwin followed a twisted but consistent form, basically a very funky bossa-nova rock. He pairs admirable melodies with his extremely limited vocal range, and as a child of the bedroom studio, his double-tracked falsetto has gotten him out of more than one harmonic jam. The digital rhythm section shows up for work without drawing attention to itself. Plus there's the willingness to pursue a lyrical metaphor for far longer than is interesting, satisfying, or polite. Overall, think late-period David Byrne covering Prince, with all the cultural appropriation that implies.

Double Down does not progress so much as split the difference between the first two albums: short, simple songs, fewer solos than Songs, clean chord formations with aggressive drumming. While constituting a form of forward motion, synthesizing the chordwork of his debut with the fretwork of his follow-up replicates the basic lead/rhythm rock sound. His chords still ring with disjointed treble and cobbled rhythm, giving him sonic identity, but the control replaces both Darwin Deez's janky experimentation and Songs' moments of exuberant punk bombast (q.v. "Free (The Editorial Me)"). Theoretically, this could mean he sounds more like Prince than ever, but his romantic life has never held much of a place for something so mundane as fucking. "Rated R" comes as close as he's ever gotten to a sex song, and for that it's one of his best, but we should note that he projects the thrill of sexual discovery onto a 15-year-old who can only conceive of the material reality of sex in terms of censored adulthood:

It's the weight of all the dirty words you say

And the nudity is new to me

With a straight face and a plain walk

We can sneak into the movie with the chainsaw

You are rated R

I'm fifteen, I'm fifteen

You are rated R

You're bad for me but I'm happy.

As a big boy now, Deez takes more pleasure in brushing women off than getting physical. He expresses it through active condescension, as in "Lover":

You only care about your hair

To you a mirror is a miracle

Don't even notice that I'm there

Too busy checking that you're spherical

It's another one down the drain

Have the beautiful but not the brain

Deez also expresses it through the passive desire to replace the love-object with his fantasy of it, as in the whole song he dedicates to this concept, "The Missing I Wanna Do": "So can we go slow / Cuz I wanna be all for you / And if I'm never alone / Then how will I do the missing I wanna do?" and later "I like you but I like my space" and "I need you here, believe me, dear / But I need you gone for a while though / I need to pore more over my findings of what I feel when your smile shows", which altogether conflates a desire for space -- which is understandable, common, and valid -- with a desire to hold his object of affection in place of that object itself in all of their complex humanity. Maybe he just thought sex was boring, but it shows in his vocal stylings: all in the head.

So we come to hear that a certain heretofore avoidable if present fact of Darwin's songwriting deals more damage to Double Down than an undecided guitar. It was more obscured on the first two albums because philosophy cut into the love songs, e.g. "Constellations" and "(800) Human" alternately bemoaned and celebrated humanistic nihilism. Either something went wrong in Deez's life or he misjudged his appeal, because with 11 out of 11 songs on Double Down about romance or relationships, mostly sans the metaphysical or even ontological angst with which Darwin tried to set himself apart in Brooklyn's indie scene, we hear with uncomfortable clarity that Darwin Deez is a bitter misogynist. I give Darwin Smith an out that he may not deserve in that Deez is a persona, but when he sings on "Bag of Tricks" only an act of unfairly generous will could ignore the sour taste of '80s-style sexism.

Showtime tonight, so many men crowd around you,

So crowded I can't get through

When your bag of tricks runs out,

Will they still love you when they doubt

Remember, ready-made gags have price tags

And I'm concerned about your health,

The way you prostitute yourself

Remember, ready-made gags have price tags

The lead single, "Kill Your Attitude", may have a clever melody, circularly satisfying hooks, and a solo that doesn't overstay its already-limited welcome, but the central conceit is one of two songs steamrolling a friends' bad feelings. Here, he says, "Kill your attitude, girl / You know I'm mad at you still / And I know you're mad at me", and in the second single, "Time Machine", he implores more platonically, "Climb in my time machine, I've been mean, now I'm sorry / So do you mind if we just skipped to when we're friends again? / What do I have to say to get you to see it my way?" Because music, more than a lot of other media and forms, is addressed outside the self, that art cannot register a response seems like a precondition for Deez's requests and demands for his friends and romantic partners not to tell him if, how, or why he has made them mad, while he gets to request and demand legitimacy in his own anger. "Last Cigarette" tips his hand as he compares a romantic relationship both to a toxic addiction and the source of that addiction. That is, blame for his failures gets shifted. "The Mess She Made" is a ballad for a dumped friend that has as its concern exactly what's in the title: pity for him, blame for her.

Darwin Smith lives in Brooklyn, was educated at Wesleyan. His smile reaches his eyes, and he bobs his head delightfully while singing, at least in music videos -- themselves not merely clever but positively interesting. His demeanor and cultural significations work to blur the reality of his musical contributions, consisting of, on the one hand, jolting blasts and twinkles, syrupy phrasings, disjointed melodies, and, on the other, forceful misinterpretations of self-worth, love, sexism, communication, epistemology, friendship, listening, asking, requesting, demanding, self-expression, and self-protection.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.


Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.


Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.


Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.