Generally, a young rock ‘n’ roll band will be pleased to be told its music is impossible to classify. They’ll take it to mean that they are entirely original, and their aspiring rock star egos will gladly gobble up the compliment.
Often, though, “impossible to classify” is just a euphemism for “impossible to enjoy”, and the music in question — though perhaps adroitly performed and demonstrative of the band’s deep appreciation of the rock ‘n’ roll classics — lacks that certain something that brands a band’s sound as instantly recognizable. In fact, even after listening to their music for seven consecutive hours, one may find him or herself thumbing through the clearance rack at a retail clothing store at the mall later that afternoon, when suddenly one of the band’s songs blasts through the speakers. Meanwhile, the listener-turned-shopper barely notices as he or she half-thinks, “Now where have I heard this before?”
Darker My Love is impossible to classify in precisely this way. Their new album, 2, a follow-up to their self-titled debut, runs the gamut from fuzzed-out psych rock to L.A. Guns influenced proto-hair metal to Beatlesesque pop. Competently played and expertly produced though it all is, you’ll forget it within seconds after losing power on your iPod.
I would be remiss not to point out one shining exception. The album’s first single, the Nada Surf-esque “Two Ways Out”, is a satisfyingly restrained combination of velvety vocal harmonies, jangly guitars and tooth-rotting “whoo-whoo-whoos”. Had the band explored this particular proclivity with more zeal, 2 would no doubt have been the better for it. Unfortunately, Darker My Love seems to feel an obligation to live up to its name, so instead of a steady diet of hook-sweetened pop, the listener gets fat on feedback, flange and reverb — which isn’t bad served with a side of blotting paper, but is otherwise disappointingly bland.
If hauntingly dark guitar-driven rock is what you’re hungry for this year, you’d be better off feasting on the Black Angels. But that isn’t to say Darker My Love isn’t without promise. If that were the case, the Dandy Warhols probably wouldn’t have asked them to tour with them, and Mark E. Smith certainly wouldn’t have invited two of its members, guitarist and lead singer Tim Presley and bassist Rob Barbato, to play with the Fall last year. However, their obvious musical talent is wasted on their preoccupation with creating boring atmospheric soundscapes rather than writing interesting, memorable, emotionally arresting songs.
The band’s shortcomings may well be best summed up in the opening lines to their jaunty Byrds throwback “White Composition” when Presley sings “I tried to say what a moster would say”.
My advice to Presley: Stop trying to do that. Rather, reign in your band and give up on the vaguely demonic stoner psych jams that have no discernable beginning or ending. I know you insist in “Two Ways Out” that “if something looks familiar, something is wrong”, so it’s probably in your nature to stray from hooks and structure. But that same song is the best example of the unrealized possibilities that reside in you and your band. Don’t let them go to waste.