In love with its own cleverness, geeky, and little messy? Sure. But there’s charm and tunes here in abundance
In 2011 Darwin Deez dropped a free download album through his website. It was called ‘Wonky Beats’, and it found the floppy-haired philosopher rapping his way through mashed-up indie samples, allowing his Wes Anderbrain to tie itself up in excessive rap puns: “Married to a mermaid, a wife aquatic”. That sort of thing.
Profound it wasn’t, but it did hammer home some of Deez’s best qualities: impish, slightly in love with his own cleverness, and crucially, not afraid of being dorky if required. There’s a simple, unself-conscious joy to what he’s always done that is totally inclusive. He may often be characterised as a pocket Strokes, but in contrast to Julian Casablancas’ imperious blank verse, Darwin’s heart is always in full view.
Well, if you thought he loved a run-on line last time out, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Try his love/hate anthem ‘You Can’t Be My Girl’. “Dear, you’re slurring Gorbachev/You insist on discussing him/You’re so wrong but still you win” he sings, trying to establish himself in that key musical/Aaron Sorkin demographic. “If airfare weren’t so unfair I’d be in Sydney instantly and we’d be Bondi-bound right now”, he pines on ‘Anna’, which seems to be about a real long-distance relationship he tried to pull through with Skype marathons. ‘Redshift’ offers a very hip-hop use of the big flashing sign saying EXTENDED METAPHOR: “Was there a big bang that I just missed?/What do I do – the universe is mostly empty space without you…/Wave or particle I can’t be both”.
If he’s tilting at a GarageBand Noël Coward, it’s not only the words that feel expanded. Whereas on the first record, you could set your watch by the arrival of one of his squalling faux-Valensi solos, here there’s a deliberate attempt to out-think himself, play against type, fuck shit up a bit. You’d hesitate to call anything this bare-bones ‘Sigur Rós’, but how else would you describe the guitar lines that sound like he’s strung 23 FX pedals together and looped it back through the mixing desk? Then there are the bits that sound like he’s been taking beatmaking tips from Squarepusher. Not all of it works. ‘Moonlit’, all chunky ’80s radio funk, drowns in its own R&B oil. ‘No Love’’s attempt to channel the funkier end of the John Hughes Playbook is half-baked. Ironically, the best pop song, ‘800 (Human)’, is also the most conventional.
Overall, the wheel-reinvention bit is largely irrelevant. What’s important in keeping this album’s head above water is that it still sounds like a rickety little adventure. There’s still a sense, at its heart, of a warm, yet slightly neurotic overthinker, sat at a mixing desk in his bedroom, possibly in his big white underpants, and just going wherever the spirit takes him.