Darker My Love
Alive As You Are
While watching Los Angeles’ Darker My Love’s set at Seattle’s 2008 Capitol Hill Block Party, I waited and waited for the band to pick things up- to crank up that overdrive and work that Echoplex. Guitarist and vocalist Tim Presley, if I recall correctly, was wearing some paisley to match his shaggy curls- looking enough like Syd Barrett to underline the group’s bent; having formed out of various bits and pieces of hardcore acts like the Nerve Agents and the Distillers, Darker My Love limply inhabit some area between the buzz and rattle of Brian Jonestown Massacre, the electric squall of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and the deferential, wide-eyed gaze of your typical Children of Nuggets act. On that hot summer day two years ago, I waited and waited for the band to get some slow-wandering, melodic stuff out of the way so they could start wailing away.
See, it is writ in the rock ‘n’ roll gospel that, for any band willing and able to strip it all down to two to three garage-quaking chords, it is guaranteed at least one song will be worthy to rest for all time in stompbox Valhalla. Darker My Love, in 2005, had “Summer is Here,” an 78-degree, fuzzed-out promise that the emergent sunny season would be full of groovy times and sweet, young, willing things. Darker My Love never got around to indulging me by playing that tune and the whole experience has flashed painfully before my eyes (and ears), two years later in their third full-length, Alive As You Are.
Despite “Summer is Here” and the fact that none other than Mark E. Smith picked Presley and bassist/vocalist Rob Barbato to be one half of the Fall in 2006, Alive takes a strident about-face from supporting any rock ‘n’ roll acumen the group hint at. Beginning with the Grateful Dead-choogle of “Backseat,” it becomes troublingly apparent that DML have turned down the gain this time out, opting instead for San Franciscan psych and McCartneyan treacle. Steadying their foothold with “Split Minute,” the song updates Roger McGuinn’s Rickenbacker tones (and mealy-mouthed delivery) with Will Canzoneri’s airy keyboard lines, which gets frustratingly interesting on the final bar of the song. Elsewhere, the daydreaming “Dear Author” is the kind of goofball tune only a couple of Anglophile, ’60s-obsessives could write. Also engaging is “Lovely Game,” with its sly, chiming guitars and insistent beat, though by its place as penultimate on the record, these are cold comforts.
Alive As You Are instead spends too much of its time exploring tepid, trebly rock tunes that sound like something like undercooked Blitzen Trapper at best and anyone else at worst. There’s the drippy “New America,” the slightly twangy “Maple Day” and the Big Star-style ballad “June Bloom,” all before the slow-creeping “Cry On Me Woman,” ending the 35-minute record on a completely indifferent note.
Though, listen, honestly- “Summer is Here!” We’ll always have that song, though for Darker My Love as they stand, that hot, frenzied season may have come and gone.
by Chris Middleman