Archive for “Alive As You Are”

Darker My Love’s Lighter Approach In “Alive As You Are”

Posted in Music with tags , , , on September 5, 2010 by johnbuckley100

Darker My Love’s new album is such a different affair from their first two, the wonder is they didn’t release it as a side project.

It got us to thinking.  About how Graham Greene used to write some novels as, well, novels, and others as entertainments — a way of distinguishing contrapuntal notes of seriousness and whimsy in his oeuvre.  And about how in recent weeks Google’s Eric Schmidt made news offering up his approach to youthful indiscretions, namely to offer all young adults the chance to change their name, and thus wipe the slate clean from arrest records, or typical beer-party Facebook postings.

So the question on the table is whether it would have been better for Darker My Love to have issued this third record under an assumed name.  Or at least a different name, since it presupposes a completely different band is at work.

Don’t get us wrong, there’s nothing Darker My Love needs to run away from  — either for the left-field masterpiece that Alive As You Are turns out to be, or for their prior work. After all, their eponymous first album and the not-so creatively titled 2, were nothing to be ashamed of.  In fact, few are the bands that have played so assuredly as Tim Presley and his colleagues — psych punk with melodies, harmonies, and still an occasional nod to The Fall.  (In fact, half the band have degrees from Mark E. Smith’s rock’n’roll finishing school, as impressive in some parts as a diploma from Harvard.  And with a lineage that includes stints in The Nerve Agents and The Distillers, no one should question Darker My Love’s ability to play punk rock.)

Nothing prepares us, though, for the Byrds’n’Burritos approach of  Alive As You Are.  A re-listen to the first two albums does give hints of immersion in previously unnoticed tunefulness that reminds us of the Elephant 6 bands; on this new one, we find delightful echoes of Olivia Tremor Control in “18th Street Shuffle,” and when the peddle steel gives way to Norwegian wood, slices of Apples in Stereo. For those keeping score at home, that’s maybe the handiest reference point… the Elephant 6 bands.. a metaphorical portal through which Darker My Life enters mid-60’s California jangle. But then we also hear bands like The High Dials and Beechwood Sparks… you know, bands who seem to have spent as much time listening to The Notorious Byrd Brothers and Rubber Soul as they ever did to the Pixies or Nirvana.

It’s possible that Zia McCabe (see below) is right that people don’t like bands growing so much that you can’t recognize their signature in later work.  For we notice that “Alive As You Are” has not been greeted with rose petals from some of the rock crit cool cats who miss the power chords and monster riffs.  It’s okay, as rock crits and other kids are often caught flatfooted when the context changes this drastically.  And veering from The Fall to Gram Parsons is the sonic equivalent of a journey from Alaska to Key West, more than 3/5s of a mile in 10 seconds, a journey so fast we usually hear sonic booms, though in this case we mostly hear harmonies and pretty melodies.

There is something classic at work here, something great in its own right. It seems that Darker My Love have taken the same Sneaky Pete detour that bands of an earlier generation once did, heading from the city to Marin, leaving behind the hard rockin’ early work for a trip through the purple sage.  Whether it’s a lark or a hard left turn into the wild is what’s unclear.

Whatever it is, I find it fascinating. This is a band with the chops, breadth, and balls to give 60’s country rock a whirl.  Mark E. Smith may be shaking his head at what his former proteges are doing, though I’m guessing he’s grokking it just like we are. Let’s hoist a wheat grass smoothie to a band willing to confound all, while producing an airy, technicolor bit ‘o something rustic that’s far grittier than mere nostalgipop.

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