Dark Dark Dark: "Bright Bright Bright"
By Kaylen Hann | 7 April 2010
Whether Kundera or Coen brothers, a grand lot of us (hands up!) have come to grips with, if not embraced, the notion of a dour weightlessness belonging to our inconsequence and the low impact our choices have on a whopping thing like, say, eternity. “Anything that happens once, might as well not have happened at all.” Few genres as potently as folk deploy over-emphasized fork-in-the-road moments and resulting regret as a means to bring us back ‘round and nail us back down to the enticing blacks and whites of consequence. And I find few artists that as chillingly or effectively as Dark Dark Dark inspire such a weighty mindset with such equal parts light and dark approach, utilizing song instrumentation smacking of authenticity, narrative strategy, and some really fucking sweet vocal manhandling.
It’s difficult to root down in rootsy music, and not come off as overly derivative, overly intellectualized, or in the worst instances as over-eager navel-gazers with a history/authenticity fetish. But no one in Dark Dark Dark sounds in over their head, and it’s not for lack of stepping up to the plate. For sure, no one is fussily slopping up their sound, a la Beirut. Instead, Dark Dark Dark’s songs are grounded in a really refreshing devotion to a precisely executed, eclectic cocktail of Bal Musete Jazz, the occasional hint of blues and both the tone and the narrative nature of Appalachia. The stories don’t lead us gradually toward remorse but connect instantly to it while a story gradually works its way into the background, details filling in around a repetition that lends more information with every slight variation of the chorus and verse. The vocalists remain gender neutral or even sing opposite gender roles, obfuscating whose songs these are exactly. Joanna Newsom admitted outright: “This isn’t my tune / But it’s mine to use”—in this way, these do not sound like folk artists simply using an aesthetic to air their own choice sins and lamentations. Even on Dark Dark Dark’s most original songs, they sound more like they’re owning something that was already there, making it theirs by way of possession: by taking an heirloom song and haunting it from the inside out, shaking off the dust as they go.
Compared to the more textured, jangled and full-staged upstart of their first EP The Snow Magic, “Bright Bright Bright” comes as an unlikely follow-up with a new and at times puzzling luster all its own. Instead of heading in with all hands on deck, this sample is simple, dolorous with more subtle textures that forgo a richer professionalism for an echoic, tainted quality. Gloomy rolls of piano notes in a deeply minor key. An electric, echoic space around Nona Marie Invie’s vocals which begin, deftly pressing the song like a thumb sussing out a bruise. It’d be easy to underestimate this song—like some Regina Spektor-ish lady + piano + feelings deal, give or take some accordion or cello. But, through the falls and lifts, Invie steadily reveals that odd-keyed powerhouse with iron-fisted control and phrasing she blew our minds with in The Snow Magic. Marshall LaCourt’s tinny vocals pair up perfectly with Invie’s: they’re perfectly considered, even the way Invie’s controlling some curious flats and off-edges where her lines drop. Granted, this flatness can easily be unsettling or off-putting—especially if you’re accustomed to the way “Bright Bright Bright” is sung in, say, the Daytrotter version of this song.
In the end, after slowly blooming chorus and verse exchanges, Invie’s return to “my bright, my bright, my bright” suddenly opens up to occupy a full range of the vocal grayscale from steeped india-ink blacks to crisp and gasping, blown-out whites. While the instruments shift from drawing slowly in and back, and instead acquire textural layers and choir-like vocals for a hell of a rewarding finish—complete with the occasional thunderous shake of metallic sheet, like the kind Daffy uses when he wants Bugs to think it’s storming. This focus on songcraft convincingly debunks the insignificance of action and decision and overrides the inconsequential with the, contrastingly, very deeply consequential and equally burdened. Successfully suspending us in the belief that there are moments where it all goes wrong, and especially where people and hearts are concerned, there are distinctly right and wrong choices to be made—and, holy fuck, was that the wrong choice. “Bright Bright Bright” works as a minor-keyed spike of remorse to be driven slowly and then, very suddenly, fully through the chest. Wounding and shedding light on the potential for fully-palpable consequence—on the burdens which could sag our shoulders all the way to the grave, and the rights and wrongs and missteps which become the almost unbearable darks and brights of being.