On September 17th the Darcys will unleash Warring (their latest studio album) on the world. The tightrope-rockers specialize in musical tension and seem to operate on a heaping dose of self-doubt. Most critics call it art rock. The art in the Darcys rock is that they meticulously craft albums that read like novels. Full of plot twists and turnarounds, crescendo and climax, the Darcys push lead singer Jason Couse into telling their story by drumming and strumming quietly—but relentlessly—behind him with all the threat and shine of a loaded gun.
Thank you, Canada
For their first self-titled album, the universe was warring against them. Ravaged by internal conflicts, robbed of gear, and unsure of their own sound, the Darcys refused to utter “uncle.” They held onto and rehashed the album until they felt it was good enough to release, then in interview, like good art-rockers, simply let it go. While the sound still holds water today, they immediately questioned whether or not they could’ve done better, but their self-titled established two things. One: proper use of synth in a rock setting; sparsely and to spooky effect, synth makes appearances in place of and sometimes right on top of the drums. Two: Couse’s gruff, almost-not-singer-material falsetto lent itself to the band's haunting sound (he began as guitarist/backup singer in the band). Their self-titled album succeeded like a tsunami swallows land, overwhelmingly and suddenly.
For their next effort, the Darcys cloistered themselves in the Canadian mist and made a change in their creative process that confounded most. They chose to rework Steely Dan’s studio feat/engineering miracle Aja rather than write their own album. Despite the mountainous task of finding a way to rephrase an album that sold over one million copies, the Darcys garnered plenty of attention, and learned some new tricks along the way. They also came away with more than just an interpretation of the ’70s classic, they had confidently made it their own (of course some will never let go, my own is a house divided on the subject). Tracks from the Darcys' AJA zig when you expect them to zag, and do the seemingly impossible: make Steely Dan’s drugged up dissonance sound even more cynical. Replacing the studio jazz with art rock, the Darcys take The Dan on a reverb rollercoaster, mercilessly wringing the soul out of the album and freezing it in their own conflicted Canadian image.
For Warring, the third in the trilogy, the Darcys have presented an album as fit to be explored as the Great White North. The sound is so dense that the first three times I heard it I felt I was listening to completely different albums. Alas, it was once again my ears, which were required to adapt to the years of work and excessive consideration given to the Darcys storytelling. In their latest effort the band has become a choir-like quartet wherein each instrument, including voice, sings out on an equal level. Before I noticed the vocals I noticed Wes Marksell’s post rock drum work, then the synthesizer beats by guitarist Michael le Riche that distort like cloud rap bangers. Warring plays out like ice glistens and sparkles—it’s very cold, but its beauty is inherent. By now the band has perfected the plot twist, and is able to move from piano ballad to post rock dirge, sometimes in the same track. They’ve also grown into their sulky skins quite comfortably, bottling the mood of a Cormac McCarthy novel (say Blood Meridian, not The Road) they've succeeded where—in my-not-so-humble opinion—Radiohead has constantly failed: in making exciting records. They've been consistently churning out the sound fellow Canadians the Dears have been grasping at for years: The Darcys are the abstract minimalists of the art rock world.
In the first three songs on Warring the Darcys move from the softly threatening "Close to Me," a song about the loss of control, to ragged rocker "Hunting," then make an unexpected left into the synth-sleek, pop-riffed third track "Horses Fell" (as legend has it, written at the end of the band's wits in the studio). And so on throughout: drumbeats either seethe or explode—never in between—and vocals rarely come down from an angelic high falsetto, but when they do they growl. Synthesizer dominates this record—putting the lid on the sadistically murky sound—and the entire composition strikes with the monochromatic effect of a Louise Nevelson sculpture (indeed, at least the cover art is inspired by Nevelson). The album, and the trilogy, finish as they began: flying on hopeful pop and synthesizers on "747s" (one of the albums strongest tracks, sure to bring down the house live), then abruptly switching moods through "Muzzle Blast," and finishing with "Lost Dogfights," which states “Give me a reason to give it a rest, you made your bed, now sleep in it.” Despite the Darcys finding an acceptable sound, the title is fitting—whether succeed or fail, they have done so by Warring.
The Darcys tracks "The River" and "Muzzle Blast" are available for streaming online right now over at their website, and the album will be available in a few different formats next month.