Thursday, February 10, 2011

Dark Dark Dark: Day Glow in the Wilderness and Existential Soul Music

Dark Dark Dark is an anomaly in an uber modern XYZ text generation rotting from the brain inward to the very core of a primal wound, a mother’s love - lost and never regained, a prescription for extinction. The music is soothing yet alarming, the notes are pure and graceful and will lift you like an escalator. The minor chord shading gives the music an emotional twist that signals an impulse to think or to hide first and then think. The sound is unamplified yet dynamic. This is music that can only be described as OTHER like an old sepia-toned photograph …

I can remember an old photo of my nana. She is posed, leaning forward almost teetering as she stares unsmilingly into the camera. She’s wearing a fur coat and a pill box hat with fringe dangling on her forehead. Grandpa is clueless behind the camera. He’s proud that he made it out of the smoke and grime of the factory and could make enough profit from the State & Bay Tavern (later renamed White’s Bar) to give his wife the best things money could buy – a new brick house, a brand new 1940 Ford Sedan and a fur coat. Behind the camera grandpa pauses, he remembers a time in his hometown of Sarnia, not so long ago, when he played with the Indian braves. They were just children. They were friends. And he knew, but for the grace of god, he might have suffered a similar fate. He shuddered. In the meantime Nana impatiently squints her disapproval of the fuss, never imagining that 70 years hence someone would be admiring this tattered old photograph, at once both ancient and relevant. Just like the music created by Dark Dark Dark. We begin this musical odyssey with an interview of Dark Dark Dark followed by a review of their April 9th show @ White’s that included the incredibly delicious Temporary Limbs and the iconoclastic Tosspints.

First of all I want you to know you blow me away by your incredible music. You send me back in time, to the post modern era of the thirties. Bertolt Brecht fashioned statements about a new order and involved himself with Kurt Weill in creating the Three Penny Opera. Nona is doing a real cool Lotte Lenya and Dark Dark Dark is creating music that is at once simple and quite sophisticated. Are you influenced by Brecht & Weill? Is the dialectical nature of your music intentional?

This question is crazy and amazing. I say “No, they are not direct and conscious influences, but the songs Mack the Knife and Pirate Jenny were, at some point.” The dialectical nature of our work and our lives is conscious, and also refers to your later question about painting and texture, because it helps us to make and use contrast.

Junk Bones, by Odd Nosdam, contains several well defined movements much like a symphony. Brian Wilson once described Good Vibrations as a pocket symphony. Do you hear your music in that context? Do you intentionally compose songs within the broader context of a symphonic form?

Yes, we try to do as much as we can with as little as possible, and use contrast and minimalism to highlight our arrangements. It is important for us to achieve a full range of expression.

On Benefit of the Doubt you chose instruments such as accordion, banjo and cello that give the song such rich sepia tones. Is this what Marshall is referencing when he talks about adding different shades or texture to a canvas? Is the creative process more complex due to these shadings?

Benefit of the Doubt highlights some of the beginnings of our style of arranging as a group, so yes, this is a good example. I’m not sure that it makes anything more complex for us, in the process, because we are allowed to contribute and discuss in an open way with each other, and generally doing what comes naturally to each of us, individually. The talk of shades and textures, and the visual art metaphor, is exemplified by our arranging in our new Bright Bright Bright EP, as we’ve grown and developed the abilities to edit ourselves and make decisions.

Nona…your voice is a remarkable instrument unique yet familiar. Is your phrasing and intonation influenced by any particular singer?

I sing for pleasure. I just try to make notes and sounds that please me and that I want to sing over and over again. I appreciate many female vocalists and I’ve learned a lot about my voice by singing at the top of my lungs along with the radio.

Your lyrics seem to communicate in layered emotional landscapes that peer unflinchingly into the human experience – both joy and sorrow. Who is the lyricist in the band? What inspires your lyrical themes?

Both Nona and I are writing the lyrics, sometimes editing each other, sometimes simply learning what the other wrote. I suppose you answered the second question with the first, because we are taking these songs from our experience and translating them.

You are in the midst of a grueling cross country tour, a gig every day throughout March. How do you do it? What keeps you going? Where do you find your energy and inspiration?

We’ve done a lot of foot work in the past three years, and its making our return trips to cities really fun. All of the friends and great shows along the way make it pretty easy, as long as we rest and eat well, and take care of ourselves, and each other. The energy and inspiration come from the audience and how they respond to our music. It becomes more and more clear that we are doing this for them, and that we benefit in the process, as artists. This is what we are compelled to do and must do right now.

When is your new CD coming out? Why did you record in analog?

The Bright Bright Bright EP came out on March 9. It is available on 12” vinyl or in a poster-download format only. The full-length that follows that up comes out later this year. The analog process is a specialty of the engineer that we wanted to work with, TomHerbers, and is more true to our sound and feelings about the music. The basic tracks and vocals were all performed live, together, in a more natural way than taking separate digital tracks and comping everything. We should have fun and feel good about the process of recording, as well as the end product. I feel like we’ve come a lot closer to this.

Thanks you for being original and different. Dark DarkDark gives us hope that great original music will continue to be recorded, released and thrive in pockets across the planet. Do you have any last comments?

Thanks a lot for your considerate questions, and see you in a couple days!

April 9th…

The opening bands did a great job, loosening up the crowd and preparing them for DARK DARK DARK except, hmm…it didn’t quite happen that way.

Temporary Limbs opened the show and put a little sugar in our tea with a sweet set highlighting Ruthy Kwiatkowski’s quirky lyrics and irreverent look at relationships. Behind the humor lay a pretty deep message.
After brief set change and sound check, the Tosspints, our favorite existential punksters, created a chain reaction of explosive energy that was so nuclear that it almost vaporized the innocent bystanders who were only wishing for Dark Dark Dark and quiet “other” music. Folks were laughing, dancing and breaking into spontaneous screamed-in-unison choruses. The crowd was over-hyped by songs like Sing to Kill, Satan’s Little Whore, I’m Fuckin’ Drunk, and 1 Beer 1 shot, 1Memory. It was a great performance but no one could follow that high energy grunge fest without doing something equally drastic such as making a suicidal gesture onstage while humping a willing post-pubescent college girl like Iggy Pop did at Daniel’s Den in 1969. Great fun.

But that’s another story

DDD opened their set just as another crowd arrived enforce and jammed themselves into the back of the room. It was a full moon at midnight. The party animals were in a howling good mood, altered by booze and the moment in time. They talking loud, drinking heavy and missing the point of the quiet sepia toned music that tried so effortlessly to be heard above the din. If only they could open their minds….they might just experience an epiphany, a real musical experience that is neither flash or show, a bit odd yet accessible. The band is onstage tuning up, and expectancy is building amongst their fans. Nona Invie is the clear leader and focal point. The band used a mix of unamplified instruments including piano, accordion, clarinet, percussion/drum, banjo and trumpet.

Dark Dark Dark opened their set with All the Things, a charming bohemian tune from The Snow Magic CD. It filled our glass like a fine wine with the sparse intricate tones of their accordion and piano. The lyrics mine Nona’s bittersweet memories, a chest full of little things – all the songs and stories she’s ever known and all the ones she ever loved. The feel and tone of the musical landscape recalls diverse images of the past; a French cafĂ©, a boat ride down the Rhine, castles and kings and lost love. She’s come to terms with all these things and embraces her life triumphantly.

They dig into their recent Bright Bright Bright EP with The Hand, an inside job with obscure lyrics about the stars singing from the skies and eyes that were shooting stars. The protagonist could change her name …but never does. It is a story of enduring love that is spoken through old memories.

Right Path is sung by Marshall LaCount with help from Nona. The wobbly vocal fits the emotional tone of the lyrics perfectly while the percussive rhythm serves as a poignant counterpoint. Like Viktor Frankl’s search for meaning, LaCount finds a reason to go on and live by a code of integrity.

Celebrate is a joyous ode to living life to the fullest and noticing the sensuous delights around us – lavender scents, crumbling brick, a race of words that makes the honey so sweet and the coolest stream your body has ever known. They are standing on the deck of a boat that is out to sea. It opens with accordion and vocal followed by a sneaky clarinet. This could be a tribute to their brief fling with the Swimming Cities of Serenissima.

The jazzed up Nobody Knows has a minor key melody carried by the clarinet player. Piano tinkling notations create a backdrop and the echoed percussion accentuates the loneliness and longing in the song. Love is always on her mind but never near – too many mistakes and the mistakes remain. It won’t work.

Something for Myself is a wonder. This is a Jungian Dance …close your eyes and let your body move and hum with the feelings and urges evoked by the music. The other’s heart sends you love and mirrors your body dance. You are synchronous as the last one in this triad keeps you safe from falling. Nona sings

I dance like this
Dance like this
I dance like this
Dance like this

Nona repeats this mantra, each time with a nuanced inflection, giving a slightly different meaning to each of the lines. This is OTHER music at its existential best!

Nona introduces Wild Goose Chase (written by Joseph O’Connell) with a request, a goal that just for this song, everyone in the back would listen…to just this one song. The crowd roars its approval. Nona sings about circular boats and abandoning cars on the highway. She warns that she doesn’t like to ramble then offers a travelogue of places from west to east; Soho to Buffalo and beyond. The clarinet and Nona’s accordion drive the jazzy vibe. She sings…

Don’t send me away
Don’t send me on this wild goose chase
For freedom
For love
For money

Bright Bright Bright is a masterpiece, a perfectly realized piece of music filled with longing and regret.
The circular piano riff underscores the unfinished sorrow revealed in the lyrics:

You always cared for me
And I pushed you in the dark
I wanted to tell you
I wanted to tell you
I wanted to tell you

But I lied
But I lied
But I lied

I hurt myself
I hurt myself

Nearly as much as I hurt you
And I wanted to tell you
And I wanted to tell you

But my pride
But my pride

Oh you are the sweetest one
You are the brightest one
Bright, Bright, Bright

Make Time is another sailing song, a travelogue banjo shuffle with horn coloring the backdrop. It’s about that sense of freedom when time seems to be suspended and you are living mindfully in the moment. A spiritual foundation is revealed in an a cappella break…God will make time where there is none.

The banjo introduces Junkbones and the accordion kicks in the first verse. The meaning of song is elusive. The lyrics seem to reconcile tangled feelings about loss and find meaning in longing and suffering. A relationship that betrayed its promise.

All the junk you filled your bones with it fills us too (repeat 3 times)
All the rope you hung your neck with it left a mark (repeat 3 times)
All the wind that blows through your hair it makes things new (repeat 3 times)
All that river swept you under carried us too

But now you are a ghost
You can find a home away from here
I always wanted to find a home away from here
Out in the field so grounded for the first time

When will I watch you take off for the last time

The band performs Wild Go as an encore despite their palpable frustration with the talkative and distracted crowd. They ask for 4 minutes, just 4 quiet minutes. The clarinet intones …piano and accordion slip-in. Nona sings passionately…

Across the land
A land once ruled by man
Maples grew and fell
Rivers turned back on themselves

Everything is as it was
The paths we carved are gone
When we fall

This night of music revealed the sacred prescription for what Dark Dark Dark calls “other music.” It’s down home honest and performed with integrity, real people playing actual instruments and singing with the voice of the everyman.
Thank god.
And as our society descends into a serious case of junkbones, we need to reach for something bold and new. The time is right for Dark Dark Dark

Bo White

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