Dark Dark Dark
(Supply and Demand Music; 2010)
By Kaylen Hann | 15 October 2010
Haunted by “the unspeakable things,” which are left unspoken, and also by a sense of shattered wanderlust, shattered relationships, and shattering attempts to absolve them: Dark Dark Dark’s sophomore album, Wild Go, is in so many ways a portrait of a band just as vagrant and clambering for roots as their songs. And at times just as shattered and affected.
With no real home to call Dark Dark Dark’s own (New Orleans, New York, Minneapolis) their “heart” is nowhere but in their songs, resting solely in lush ambience and heirloom influences. And as to the heart and presence of Wild Go as an album: it has been lifted from or haunted by the vacant spaces where Dark Dark Dark recorded—namely, the cavernous recesses of Minneapolis’s Music Box Theater (formerly the Loring Theater) and Duluth’s high-ceilinged Sacred Heart Studios (formerly a church). The sextet has surfaced like a ghost released from the attic and drifted in to fill these empty spaces, these settings, in turn, stirring their songs with apparitions, imprinting their songs in subtle ways: the sudden overwhelming amount of space, threaded with chills; their cinematic lean on the narratives; even the theatric chorus cooing beneath and adding witness.
The figures in Wild Go’s songs wander with nothing holding them down, with no common ground besides dreams, which they retreat or resign themselves to. “In Your Dreams” opens the album with a tumble of percussion paired with the muted bellows of accordion; a sinuous violin wavers in and out while Nona Marie Invie’s vocals stress retreat, suspending and forgetting those dreams. Her vocals retreat even further in the ballad “Daydreaming,” climbing the bars of the sullen chorus like impossibly steep stairs, lamenting those “unspeakable things.” There are gaps where the lyrics leave me alone with my imagination; it’s like watching Invie with her fingers pull at loose threads of daydreams, and we watch her watch them unravel.
In “Heavy Heart,” the one song on the album where Marshall LaCourt’s vocals are singled out, his voice stands, shoulders slumped, alone on the floor with a familiar, starkly uttered sentiment: “Will anyone dance with me?” A bare trickle of orchestration leads to a full-scale eruption of chamber folk, infused with the most surprising element on their album: electric guitar. Its introverted tone in is line with (personal favorite) similarly introspective “Robert,” where Invie’s breaking and ascending voice is thrown like a plaintive call down an alley with nothing but a fog of faint electric hum, echo, and an even more faint clinking of glass-like particles. More than anything you can hear the bones of her voice cracking themselves on the cobblestones as she pleads for Robert to just keep his hands dry—understanding him too deeply to ask for anything more than that. Consistently one of the most appreciated ingredients in Dark Dark Dark’s chemistry, Invie’s voice is one you could bounce a dime off of, it’s pulled into such a perfectly suspended, tense surface. And where it breaks—where she breaks—it is just fucking devastating.
With lush elements suspended over greater and greater spaces; with chilling sparsity, revealing the crushing weight of negative spaces, hollow air, and the vacuum created by unspeakable things remaining unspoken; with dreams and discontent that turn back on themselves and unravel; by the forceful pull of all the things that are left wanting, Wild Go sees Invie and LaCourt, in contrast to Snow Magic (2008), ruminating not on mistakes, on wrong choices and consequences, but on inaction, on heartbreaking resignation.
Along with their dismantled and shaken characters, similarly shattered, these intensely introspective, monologues are troubled to find their home on the album amongst more upbeat, fully fleshed pieces. The tracks are at their most compelling—which is to say: very compelling—when they’re listened to in isolation from one another or liberated from the album’s initial lineup. The greatest favor you can do as a listener is to allow the same open air and breathing room the songs allow themselves. Or, do yourself the favor of catching the haunted sextet live this month in all their shattered and affected, nomadic glory. (That does not mean “naked.” The album cover is a little misleading in that sense.)