'Imaginative People' Lacks Variety, But Compensates With Wit
Published: Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 22:02
Before diving into his latest LP, newcomers to Darwin Deez’s brand of indie rock might be a bit skeptical of this studio-talent-gone-solo. Darwin has a goofy look, to be sure, and it also doesn’t help that the title of the album, Songs for Imaginative People, smacks of that unpalatable hipster arrogance that so many independent groups these days succumb to. It’s like naming yourselves “Only Smart People Will Get Us,” or releasing a single called “I’m So Creative I Can Hardly Put My Pants On.” Plus, it’s off-putting when an obvious solo act like singer/songwriter Darwin Smith tries to convince everyone that the variation on his name means that he can call Darwin Deez a “band,” especially when he’s doing the writing, guitar, lead vocals, and back-up vocals, in addition to being the only guy pictured on the album cover. Seeing all of this, you might brace yourself for some excessive uses of “irony”, or a song about how he was the first person ever to appreciate David Foster Wallace.
Yet you’ll need to throw all your presuppositions aside for Songs, because neither the LP nor its maker fit into a mold of any sort. It’s a strange album with a surprising sound, chock full of witty wordplay and crunchy, Kravitz-esque chords strummed with UnKravitz-esque creativity. Ever since he broke into London indie-scene fame in 2009 with his debut single “Constellations,” Darwin’s music has had a fixation with the cosmos and a flair for churning out cool beats. His voice is reminiscent of the Front Bottoms’ singer Brian Sella at times, except that he frequently dares to break the monotone and do a passionate and passable falsetto. Though every song is grounded in that alternative guitar crunch, the drums and keyboard hold their own, and though his background is in rap, Darwin’s guitar rock-soloing has impressive soul. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that his machine loops manage never to be dull or uninspired, always bubbly, complicated, and unique.
But the most exciting part about this album is how clever and original the lyrics are, straight from the opening track. “(800) HUMAN” is among a meager handful (if that) of songs that successfully riffs off a prayer, in this case the Our Father. It was between the lines “Even angels fall for legalese” and “So lead us not into late night TV, but deliver us no CODs” that I realized I was really starting to like him. Then he ripped out a needle-thin solo, humbly jamming out in the background of improv-vocals and layered-dissonance coda, and that’s when he really blew me away.
The only major problem with the album on the whole is that it’s pretty noticeably top-heavy. The tracks at the front, particularly “(800) HUMAN,” “You Can’t Be My Girl,” and “Good to Lose” have an energy and inventiveness that sort of trails off before the final tunes. It might not actually be the songs’ fault, per se, but rather the fact that the style lends itself to abbreviated bursts of listening. “Free (The Editorial Me)” sort of picks up what “Alice” dropped in terms of a refrain that gets the blood pumping, but “All in the Wrist” brings the tempo back down for less of that first, memorable kick. All of that said, though, the lyricism persists throughout at being atypically smart and charmingly weird. It may just be that his distinctive instrumental sound has a limited appeal. Once Darwin settled on a tone he wanted to use, it would seem that he did little after that to shake things up. There isn’t anything wrong with sticking to a selection of instruments, but the listener can’t help but feel that the LP could benefit from a bit more variety.
All in all, though, Darwin Deez’s individuality and cunning prevail on this album, which may very well be enjoyable for imaginative and unimaginative people alike.