It's not easy being in a band about to release a sophomore record. The much-debated sophomore slump leaves many bands uneasy about the process, the reception, and the results of a second album. Many groups will try and evade such discussions by releasing an EP in between albums, to denote growth and dynamic talent, or will stick to the blueprint of the first record to avoid any sort of backlash from critics and fans. It's a cowardly move for musicians but one that has been on repeat since the dawn of pop music.
Enter Darker My Love, a rock band whose roots run deep and involve members from both coasts along with the divergent influences that come with the territory. Back in 1998 Tim Presley (guitar/vocals) and Andy Outbreak (drums) were in the Bay Area hardcore band the Nerve Agents, a group whose abrasive live performances are now the stuff of legend (they have involved hospital visits for members of the audience and the band). Outbreak eventually joined the punk rock group the Distillers and left them in 2005 to form Darker My Love with Presley, Rob Barbato (bass/vocals), Jared Everett (guitar), and Will Canzoneri (clavinet/organ) the last to make the fold.
Darker My Love is now situated in LA. The band just released its second record, appropriately entitled 2, on the Dangerbird label. To add to the frustration of releasing and promoting its sophomore record, tragedy recently struck the group when the father of Darker My Love's lead singer Presley passed away. The band was forced to cancel part of its tour with the Dandy Warhols, including a performance at Oakland's Art and Soul Festival. "You know we are all just dealing with it day by day," Barbato reflected. "Tim is with his family right now and we are wishing him the best." The band should be picking up its tour in Minneapolis although plans are not definite yet.
The songs on 2 diverge wildly from the buried shoegaze atmospherics of Darker My Love's first self-titled album, and move more toward pop territory with the assistance of producer Dave Cooley (Silversun Pickups, J Dilla). When asked about the poppier approach to this record, Barbato said, "You know we are all fans of Big Star, the Byrds, the Kinks, we love all sorts of pop music. Melody and harmony and certain structures just move people in a certain way that abstract stuff doesn't. It's not like we don't like abstract stuff, it's just that that's not where we were when we recorded the album."
Darker My Love's sound has been lumped into the shoegaze-psych scene with the likes of Jesus and Mary Chain and Spacemen 3, and with bands like the Brian Jonestown Massacre and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. It's a facile comparison that makes more sense in reference to its self-titled debut: feedback-laden guitars, snarling reverbed vocals, and lyrics that deal with existential themes (tragedy, love, ecstasy, guilt). Barbato noted the first record was really tape-saturated and was a snapshot of that time but really wasn't a well-thought-out piece. "All of us were broke. That record definitely came from a bleaker perspective."
Although 2 still is awash in reverb and feedback, it also displays a band whose sound is maturing. The reason is twofold: the members of the band are older and less interested in appealing to scene dynamics, and also had the added benefit of working in a top-notch studio with LA producer Cooley. "We wrote a ton of songs, and really took our time with it," Barbato said. "Working with Dave was fun, but you know working with any producer can crush your ego at certain times. You bring them a song you worked really hard on and you'll get a 'Why don't you think about the song this way?'"
Cooley's production, as well as the benefit of experience and more time to record, helps deliver surprising results on 2. The guitar work is fleshed out and more driving, the dronier aspect is more measured and used sparingly, while the vocal harmonies are tighter and the drums are more muscular. This is shown especially on songs like "Two Ways Out," an infectiously catchy pop nugget à la Guided by Voices, that has a definite crossover appeal to radio. Barbato and Presley's vocals snake around a circular guitar refrain that serves as the backdrop to a stately drum rhythm, and monotone vocals that eerily expresses the ennui of city life that if something looks familiar, then something is wrong. 2 is ultimately a record that values space, and when asked what he wanted to achieve with this work, Barbato quickly and without hesitation remarked, "clarity."
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